An international United Methodist body is giving fresh energy to efforts to restructure the global denomination so that its different geographic regions would each have greater autonomy and stand on equal footing.
The Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters devoted most of its first in-person meeting since 2019 to discussing such regionalization efforts. The committee met in February at a United Methodist retreat center in the town of Braunfels, Germany, which dates to the Middle Ages.
The 43-member committee is a coordinating body that studies the structure and supervision of The United Methodist Church’s central conferences — church regions in Africa, Asia and Europe. The group is a permanent committee of General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly, with authority to meet between the legislative gatherings to do its work.
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Over the past few years, the standing committee has worked with the Connectional Table — another denominational leadership body — on what it means to be a globally connected denomination. The standing committee, for several years, has analyzed the inequity around the ways the denomination is structured.
The two bodies have looked at addressing what many United Methodists deem an inherent weakness in the denomination’s current organization — namely that no structure exists to deal with matters solely related to the United States. The result is that General Conference ends up being largely dominated by U.S. issues and debates.
Also unlike in the U.S., central conferences have authority under the denomination’s constitution to make “such changes and adaptations” to the Book of Discipline — the denomination’s policy book — as missional needs and differing legal contexts require.
For example, central conferences already adapt parts of the Discipline to accommodate the requirements of different property laws. Some central conferences, such as the Philippines, have different ways of credentialing clergy.
Talking about being a globally connected church, standing committee members expressed that it is no longer acceptable to have two separate ways of functioning — one for the United States and a second one for the rest of the world
At present, there are two major regionalization proposals submitted to the coming General Conference that aim to change that.
Both proposals would require multiple amendments to the denomination’s constitution — a high hurdle. For ratification, amendments must receive at least a two-thirds vote at General Conference and at least two-thirds of the total votes from church regional bodies called annual conferences.
Over days of discussions, the standing committee concluded that only a joint proposal would likely get the widespread support needed to be successful.
In a unanimous vote, with only one abstention, the standing committee decided to form a task force to work jointly with the Connectional Table to form that proposal.
Central and Southern Europe Central Conference Bishop Patrick Streiff, who will retire Aug. 1, told the standing committee that the church should be different from the political divides of the word.
God’s aim is to build community and not polarization or winner-loser mentalities, Streiff said.
excerpt form a story by Klaus Ulrich Ruof, public relations officer, Germany.
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