2016 is a big year in American politics. It’s also a big year for The United Methodist Church. Since the image of politicians right now in the U.S. is less than favorable, forgive the comparison, but The United Methodist Church’s General Conference shares a lot in common with the U.S. political system.
General Conference, the top legislative body of The UMC, meets every four years. This year it meets at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland May 10-20.
Big decisions get made that involve the denomination’s theology, ministry, higher education, and just like in politics, finances.
And, like the political process, there is strength in numbers at General Conference. The North Georgia Conference, of which Glenn Memorial is a part, has a whopping 22 delegates – 11 lay delegates and 11 clergy delegates. It’s rivaled in the U.S. only by Virginia in terms of total delegates.
Glenn’s Mathew Pinson and Rev. Alice Rogers were both selected as delegates for the 2016 General Conference. This will be the fifth General Conference for both. Pinson is the chair of the North Georgia delegation, having been the first elected lay delegate. “It’s my job to convene and lead the North Georgia delegation,” Pinson said. “We’ve been meeting monthly since we were convened in June .”
Pinson’s task has been to prepare the delegation on the major issues and petitions that will arise this year on the church’s structure, its stance on human sexuality, budget, and establishing term limits for bishops.
“I bring in a select group of the top general secretaries of the church – the agents and leaders of the church,” Pinson said. They then update delegates about submitted petitions.
Pinson said members of the North Georgia Conference are also members of some of the 12 legislative committees at General Conference (seen on the General Conference website). Those legislative committees are much like specialized House and Senate committees and are made up of the 864 delegates from all over the world.
Pinson said the first week in Portland, the legislative committees will meet, process petitions that have been submitted, and then choose which ones make it to the floor of General Conference. Some legislation goes through committees, while other proposals can be brought to the floor directly. A detailed explanation of the legislative process can also been found on the General Conference website. After the 864 delegates vote, adopted legislation is then put in the “Book of Discipline” or the “Book of Resolutions.”
If it all seems distant and bureaucratic, Pinson said sure, the church does need to be less bureaucratic. But he said, “the power of our Methodist connection enables us to do some really exciting things like fund theological education … and UMCOR [United Methodist Committee on Relief]” which provides humanitarian aid after disasters.
And Pinson said the work of the local church should not be seen as taking a back seat to General Conference.
“The most important thing for every congregation to know is that local congregations are more powerful than any General Conference will ever be,” Pinson said. “We say that the mission of The United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And the local church is the most significant arena through which Christian discipleship making occurs, which means that the local church is the most powerful unit of the denomination. So there is nothing that is going to happen at General Conference that is more important than what’s going on at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church. Nothing.”
This Sunday at 8:30 and 11:00 a.m. worship, we will have a Prayer Service for General Conference. We will pray for our United Methodist Church as we lift up the delegates, the process and our desire for God’s will to be made known and done. The service will be ordered around prayers of Adoration and Praise, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication and Intercession. We will celebrate the sacraments of baptism and communion as we gather together. All are welcome.