General Conference

Those of us who call ourselves United Methodist, will soon experience the long-awaited General Conference to convene in Charlotte, North Carolina. There is much anticipation as this is the actual postponement of the 2020 General Conference due to COVID 19. General Conference has not met in regular sessions since 2016 in Portland, Oregon or in a special session since 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri.  While there are an expected 862 voting delegates, most will be observers of the process. Some have very high hopes and expectations for the outcomes while others are less optimistic that the complex process involved in legislation will actually bring about any real change. As we watch the process unfold, here are some important reminders to consider:

  1. The General Conference is a human-designed institution. While it was created with the best of intentions, nonetheless it is not perfect, has flaws, and it’s filled with cumbersome and clunky processes and procedures.
  2. Institutions were created in an era when trust was high and people were joiners of such organizations. While we live in a completely different time and context, the same institution is still in place to govern our denomination. As organizations decline and fall into their late life cycle stages, structure and survival become the primary driver unless a new life cycle led by a new vision is launched.
  3. There are ten different languages spoken by the delegates, not to mention all the various cultures, time zones, countries, social norms, and expectations to navigate in order to communicate effectively and the General Conference to be able to come to some agreements on legislation.
  4. Some sort of system must be in place to conduct the business of the General Conference. Robert’s Rules is that chosen pathway. However, Robert’s Rules can sometimes create a very cumbersome process that allows roadblocks and detours towards forward progress.
  5. There are 14 legislative committees who will meet for five days to consider over 1100 petitions. Only a small fraction of those petitions will make it to the General Conference floor for consideration. Some may pass via consent calendar and others may die in legislative committees. Others may be amended and recommended for presentation to the General Conference but never make it to the floor due to time constraints. A few petitions may make it to the floor, debated, amended, but still not pass. The fate of those petitions are in the hands of the voting delegates.
  6. There are various views, beliefs, and agendas held by delegates and special interest groups. Each can substantiate their views, beliefs, and opinions theologically. Emotions are bound to run high at moments because people are deeply passionate about their beliefs. When this many people gather, there is bound to be a difference in opinions.
  7. The General Conference format may not be perfect, but it is all we have. We must work within the system as efficiently and swiftly as possible to bring about the desired change if there is to be a United Methodist presence for future generations.
  8. Even though this is a human-made organization filled with flawed humans, people have volunteered to serve. It is an exhausting two weeks of sitting in meetings. It is often a rollercoaster of emotional ups and downs. Hold in prayer those serving as delegates, bishops, and in supporting roles.
  9. Regardless of what happens at General Conference, remember that the local church is still the most significant part of the church. The local mission field is where disciples are made, disciples serve, and the greatest Kingdom impact is made. 
  10. Most importantly … God is present amongst all the chaos and uncertainty. Look for the ways God is already at work, reconciling, healing, blessing, and building bridges of hope for a better future!