By Woody Woodrick
Mississippi United Methodists on June 13 voted against proposed changes to the denomination’s constitution that would alter the structure of the church.
In balloting held during the 2009 session of the Mississippi Annual Conference, the majority of lay and clergy members voted against ratifying 27 of 32 amendments approved at the 2008 General Conference. The vote totals – both for and against - on each amendment will be added to those of each of the other 135 conferences worldwide. Two-thirds of those voting must support an amendment for it to be approved. A final tally on the amendments could take several months as the 72 conference outside the United States hold their meetings. Most of the 63 U.S. conferences meet in the spring and early summer.
Members of the Annual Conference seemed pleased with the way the voting was handled, and said the outcome was not surprising.
“I was very impressed with how (Bishop Hope Morgan Ward) handled it with one (person speaking) for and one against,” said Jane Lee of Diamondhead. “I was amazed at how quickly it went.”
The entire voting process took just about an hour.
The Rev. Jeff Dalton of Mendenhall also praised the fairness of the presentation of the amendments and comment. Ward presented the amendments in groups, especially those related to the same central issue.
“The outcome was pretty good,” said Kace C. Pulliam of Eupora Liberty UMC. “I don’t know if I was right or not, but the outcome went pretty much the way I voted.”
The Rev. Kevin Trantham, who will be ordained today, said he was not surprised with the outcome. “It went the way I expected based on who and what our conference is,” he said.
Dalton said he was glad the conference voted for a proposed amendment to extend to local pastors a vote in selecting clergy delegates to General Conference. “I support our local pastors. They do a major share of the work in our conference and other conferences,” he said.
The Annual Conference members gave a majority of supporting votes to five amendments:
• Amendment 2 that requires the adoption of ethics and conflict of interest policies to ensure accountability and fiduciary integrity
• Amendment 8 that would add “gender” to those categories of person protected in this list of duties of the General Conference
• Amendment 9 that would ensure a minimum basis of support for the election of bishops at jurisdictional conferences
• Amendment 19 that would allow local pastors to participate in the election of clergy delegates process for general, jurisdictional and central conferences. This amendment got the most support, gaining 975 votes in favor against 111 in opposition.
• Amendment 22 that formally recognizes the congregations of Bermuda as United Methodist congregations.
Amendments that failed to gain support – other than the structure plans - include:
• Amendment 1 that would emphasize the wideness of God’s mercy and the availability of the ministry of the church to all.
• Amendment 6 that would allow representation in the General Conference at other than proportional levels during a transitional period for the admission of an annual conference in the United Methodist Church.
• Amendment 15 that would allow the definition of lay and clergy members of the annual conference by the General Conference without going through the constitutional amendment process.
• Amendment 17 that would make supporting constitutional changes to allow reinstatement of legislation adopted by the 2004 General Conference and subsequently declared unconstitutional by the Judicial Council to allow lay persons on the committee on investigation to vote on matters of ordination, character and conference relations of clergy. This was the closest vote on the ballot, with “no” votes leading 598-492.