Report by Rev. Stephen Sparks, 4/25/2012


Tuesday night, April 24th, the 2012 General Conference of The United Methodist Church convened the first plenary session of its once-every-four-year gathering, held this year in Tampa, Florida. The delegates heard a greeting by Jim Harnish, the chairman of the Host Committee for the Florida Annual Conference, pastor of Hyde Park UMC, and the mayor of Tampa, Bob Buckhorn, who said, in looking forward toward this summer and Republican Convention, he would rather have the Methodists meeting.

The main business for the evening was adopting the plan for organization, agenda and Rules of Order. The report was brought by Randle Miller and the Commission on the General Conference. Miller in his address spoke of the worldwide nature of the church, the proposed structural changes coming before the delegates this year and how that would affect upcoming General Conferences. Miller also reported that the Commission had studied the feasibility of holding a General Conference outside the United States by as early as 2024, but reported that to do so would mean incurring significantly increased costs. The Commission would only recommend holding a General Conference outside the US if the General Conference passed legislation making it a priority of future Commissions on the General Conference. The Commission then brought the plan of organization and Rules before the body. As is customary, the delegates suspended the rules to seat provisional conferences and this year got to practice with their electronic voting devices before moving on to dealing with the rules of order.

There were 18 amendments to the Rules proposed that required the Conference to reschedule the completion of the adoption of the standing rules until after the morning break on Wednesday, a time that had been set aside on the agenda for the organization of the legislative committees. Some of the more notable changes in the rules for this year are:

  • Changed structure to allow deadlines for committee work; that the conference would end at a reasonable hour each night (9:30), and that Sunday would be a day of rest, worship and Sabbath.
  • A newly established ethics commission.
  • Petitions that were not taken up by committees will require no further action to expire but may be brought back before the plenary by 20 delegates submitting the request in writing.
  • Changes in rules for handling minority reports (where a group of delegates disagree with action of a committee and want to bring to the floor an alternative to the committee report). Streamlined such that the first vote will be a vote on a motion to substitute the minority report for majority report before beginning the amendment process and final debate.
  • Change in representation on certain standing committees to require one rep. from each central conference and jurisdiction.

In the Wednesday morning plenary, a motion was made to postpone all the amendments and adopt the rules as presented. The motion to postpone passed. After two other attempts to amend the rules failed, they passed as presented. On a request for a ruling on an interpretation of a rule, the Commission held that Rule 11 that sets the bar of the Conference already provides that no one may be allowed on the floor of the Conference within the bar unless they are delegates even when the Conference stands in recess. This was an effort to address a protest that was allowed on the floor of GC2008 by the predecessor group to the Love Your Neighbor coalition. The protestors had draped the alter of the General Conference with a black cloth in support of full inclusion including ordination and the rites of marriage for GLBTQ persons.

Submitted by Rev. Stephen Sparks

Mississippi UMC General Conference Communications Team:
Stephanie Foretich, student, Candler School of Theology
Rev. Stephen Sparks, pastor, Indianola First UMC and reserve delegate
Anthony Thaxton, producer and director of operations of the United Methodist Hour and conference videographer
Rev. Steve Casteel, director, Mississippi Conference Communications and Connection

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