Organizers are pressing forward with plans to hold what many expect to be a pivotal General Conference next year.
At the same time, they acknowledge that the pandemic may once again thwart those plans.
The Commission on the General Conference aims to decide in the first three months of next year whether The United Methodist Church’s top legislative assembly can go ahead as scheduled Aug. 29-Sept. 6 in Minneapolis.
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In the meantime, the international elected body met online Nov. 18 to continue preparations. Commission members also unanimously approved a list of values that will guide their decision to go forward or delay once again.
The main obstacles to General Conference remain the availability of travel visas and vaccines.
The coronavirus already has twice forced postponements of the assembly originally set for May 2020. The bishops also found it impossible to hold a special one-day virtual General Conference earlier this year.
Kim Simpson, the commission’s chair and a veteran delegate from the Central Texas Conference, urged fellow members to make clear that the event will be “as inclusive as possible.”
“It will not be just U.S. delegates,” she stressed. “We as a commission are the ones that make the decision, so we as a commission need to make sure that we allay the fears that are out there.”
Bishops from around the globe as well as interpreters and other staff also play key roles in the proceedings. Bishops preside but do not have a vote.
It’s possible to have a quorum with just U.S. delegates, but commission members and General Conference staff agreed that is not good enough.
While the timing of General Conference remains a question mark, no one questions that the coming assembly will likely mark some kind of turning point.
The coming General Conference faces multiple proposals to divide the global denomination along theological lines. The most endorsed of these proposals is the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation.
With the importance of this General Conference in mind, the commission approved the following values for consideration:
- Reasonable threshold for delegate participation (overall and by global region).
- Health and safety of General Conference delegates, staff, volunteers and guests.
- Recognition of The United Methodist Church’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
- Owning the responsibility of the commission to set the time and place of General Conference.
Commission members briefly debated whether it’s possible to hold a hybrid conference where most delegates meet in person while others meet online.
Last year, the commission named a technology study team to look into the possibilities of holding General Conference online. The team’s report outlined several obstacles in the way of such a conference.
The group next plans to meet this month, but it may take more than one meeting to decide whether the 2022 General Conference is a go.
excerpt from a story by Heather Hahn, assistant news editor, UMNews
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