By Bishop Hope Morgan Ward
Lay and clergy members of the Annual Conference will participate on June 13, with all United Methodist people in considering 32 amendments to the constitution of The United Methodist Church. This is a holy privilege that we will engage in community with one another. As bishop of the Mississippi Conference, it is my responsibility and privilege to guide the process of conferencing and decision-making.
From the earliest days, the church has grappled with the question of how to order our life together. In the freshness of our time, we find ourselves in a familiar place: We have been here before, at a point of decision, with common hopes yet with varied perspectives on the best way forward.
We all seek to be faithful to the scripture and faithful to our heritage. The challenge has been constant across 2,000 years and continues as we gather in Jackson very soon. I am confident that we will engage in decision-making in a spirit worthy of Christ, who bore the truth among us and who now reigns over all.
A generous amount of time has been planned on Saturday morning so that we might consider the amendments carefully and faithfully.
Lay and clergy members will be given a ballot for 32 votes. The work together will continue until all 32 votes are accomplished.
Amendments will be posed in five groups:
• Proposed amendment to change language defining the availability of the membership of the church to all persons
•Proposed amendment related to who is able to vote for delegates to General and Jurisdictional conferences
• Proposed amendments on the Worldwide Nature of the Church
•Proposed amendments on the Worldwide Nature of the Church dealing primarily with the name change (“central” to “regional” conference)
•Other proposed amendments.
Lay and clergy members will be invited to speak after each group is posed. The conference does not have the authority to change the wording of the amendments. We will follow Roberts Rules of Order, alternating between speeches that oppose and support the amendments. Lay and clergy members will vote “yes” or “no.” If the desire to speak ceases on either side, the vote will be called.
When the vote is called, lay and clergy members will be instructed to vote by amendment number. This process will continue until the conference has voted on all 32 amendments.
The ballots will be collected and the vote will be tallied. The numerical vote of the annual conference will be reported back to the body. It is important to note that the Mississippi Conference does not approve or reject the amendments. The numerical vote of our lay and clergy members will be added to the aggregate vote of all the annual conferences around the world.
Processes were put in place this year to engage all lay and clergy members in education and dialogue in regard to the amendments.
Gatherings were held in March and early April in clusters and district settings for this purpose, in addition to our traditional and helpful May pre-conference briefing sessions.
Personal perspectives have been written and circulated. Articles on the amendments have been published by the United Methodist Church, by interest groups, by caucuses and by individuals. Gatherings have been convened for additional sharing of perspective. General Conference lay and clergy delegates and others are available to speak with any lay and clergy member of the annual conference who would like to engage in further dialogue.
The constitutional amendments come to us through discernment and dialogue across the church that we love and serve. They are offered through processes that have engaged thousands of people. They are now before all United Methodist annual conferences around the world.
It is your turn, you who are lay and clergy members, to add your voice to the wisdom of all United Methodist people. You are in my prayers as you do so.