By Linda Green
United Methodist News Service
FORT WORTH, Texas — Would making The United Methodist Church in the United States a regional body be the best way for the denomination to function as a worldwide body?
Ten speakers explored that question during a Jan. 25 panel discussion on “The Worldwide Nature of the Church: What It Means” during the Pre-General Conference News Briefing sponsored by United Methodist Communications.
General Conference, which meets every four years, is the denomination’s top legislative body. During its meeting April 23-May 2 in Fort Worth, the 2008 assembly will consider proposed structural changes to the denomination that acknowledge the fact that the church is growing outside of the United States and that 30 percent of United Methodist members now live outside the United States.
Proponents say the structural changes would make the church more effective and equitably organized for worldwide ministry. Opponents say the changes may actually serve to fragment the denomination into national entities, among other things.
A task force examining the issue has proposed four substantive changes to the denomination’s constitution in an effort to make regional and jurisdictional structures similar worldwide. Task force members say the current structure gives the
The constitutional changes would pave the way so that legislation could be proposed to the 2012 assembly that would eliminate
Specifically, the legislation would make the church’s five jurisdictions in the
The six-member task force has sent 24 petitions to General Conference to make changes in 24 paragraphs of the constitution. Most of these changes are grammatical or change the words “central conference” to “regional conference.” The committee, chaired by Nebraska Bishop Ann Sherer, also will ask General Conference to allow the task force and the Connectional Table to jointly continue their study of the church’s worldwide nature and report to the 2012 legislative assembly.
Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority vote of General Conference delegates and must be ratified by two-thirds of the aggregate annual conference voting members.
Kansas Bishop Scott Jones, a task force member, said the proposal does not change the number, purpose and function of jurisdictional conferences; the way bishops are elected or assigned; the purpose or mission of any churchwide agency; the size or power of General Conference; the way the Social Principles are decided upon or amended; or the apportionment formulas and allocations.
The proposal seeks to examine how the church should carry out its ministry in a world that is increasingly interdependent, he said.
In a videotaped message, Bishop Patrick Streiff of the Central and Southern Europe Area said United Methodists outside of the
Bishop David Yemba of the Central Congo Area echoed that sentiment, saying that changes are needed in the church’s infrastructure and governance to make the denomination more effective worldwide. In his videotaped message, Yemba told the gathering that “the
Sherer said the task force is seeking a worldwide structure that “keeps us connected in mission, ministry and discipline.”
Echoing Strieff, she said
Sherer also said there is a sense of urgency to reorganize because “our war-torn and broken world needs a better model of unity and interdependence.”
“Recent developments in the world and in Christianity call for a new emphasis on the concept of mission that addresses a world community and our connectedness that is not impeded by national, cultural and economic barriers,” she said.
Questioning the changes
Two panelists disagreed with the proposed structural changes.
“The church is global. We do not have to make it global,” said the Rev. Eddie Fox, a staff executive of the World Methodist Council. “On the day of day of Pentecost, it was declared global. God spoke and God understood.”
Fox questioned why a “global” proposal would create a national
Fox questioned the desire to push international delegates away from the discussion table on matters related to the
“This is not the time for us to be creating national entities,” he said, citing the structure of the Anglican Church. He called the proposed legislation irresponsible for “asking to change the constitution without knowing the effects of it.”
What is needed, he said, “is to walk side by side, not separate, so together we might do our part so the world may know Jesus Christ.”
The Rev. Tim McClendon, a district superintendent in the South Carolina Annual Conference, said he feared the proposal would make the church more fragmented instead of more connected.
“We would lose the important voices of those outside the
McClendon said that while The United Methodist Church attempts to be global, “we are not a global church and we need to realize that.” Outside the
McClendon noted that jurisdictional conferences still will exist in the
“Who keeps them?” he asked. “I am pushing for the middle to hold us together. I believe in the unity of the church.”
If General Conference approves the proposed constitutional amendments by a two-thirds majority, annual conferences would be asked to vote on the 24 proposed changes and the exact tally would have to be reported in order for the Council of Bishops to determine whether a two-thirds majority of all annual conference members had been attained. Jones told United Methodist News Service that the manner in which these votes are taken would be decided by the presiding bishop.
Members of the global nature task force were appointed by the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table.