Questions and Answers
What is the delegation’s role in General Conference and ultimately back to the Mississippi Annual Conference?
The General Conference is the highest legislative body of the United Methodist Church which meets every four years. It was set to meet in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 5-15, 2020. However, due to the current pandemic, it has been postponed twice. The postponed 2020 General Conference is now scheduled for August 29 – September 6, 2022 in Minneapolis. The General Conference is comprised of 862 delegates. A formula, based on lay and clergy membership, determines the number of delegates each annual conference will elect.
The Mississippi Conference has a total of ten (10) delegates – five clergy and five laity – that are elected to the General Conference. The entire delegation has met many times and will continue to meet numerous more times to review and discuss the proposed legislation to General Conference. The work of the delegation is to be well informed of all proposed legislation and be well prepared to vote on it. In addition to changes to church law, policies, and denominational statements, delegates also consider proposed changes to church structure and organization. Delegates will vote on the missional priorities and the general church budget for the upcoming quadrennium. They serve for four years. If a special General or Jurisdictional Conference is called, delegates will serve at those conferences as well.
During the first week of General Conference, delegates will meet in their assigned committees reviewing, debating, revising, and voting on legislation to present to the entire body. In the second week, the entire body of delegates debates and votes on all items approved by the legislative committees. Delegates vote by secret ballot. This allows delegates to prayerfully vote their own conscience as they seek what is best for their annual conference and the entire worldwide denomination.
The decisions made at the General Conference are reported back to the annual conference.
What are legislative committees? What do they do and how many are there?
The Commission on the General Conference has set the number of legislative committees at 14. All properly submitted petitions and reports to General Conference are assigned to legislative committees. The committees will debate the proposals assigned to them and determine whether to approve, amend, combine or reject them for recommendation to the full body of General Conference.
What role(s) do(es) members of our delegation serve in legislative committees? How are delegates assigned?
Each of our 10 delegates submitted three choices of legislative committees on which they wanted to serve. The committee assignments were made in order of their election by the head of the delegation.
What’s a typical day in the life of a delegate while serving on these legislative committees (you all have 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. days)?
During the first week, the typical day begins with inspiring worship at 8:00 a.m. A plenary session follows and then delegates will go to work in their legislative committee. Each day adjourns at 6:30 p.m. On the final day of legislative committee meetings, all work must be completed by 9:30 p.m.
During the second week, each day also begins with a worship service at 8:00 a.m. The rest of the day, General Conference will meet in plenary sessions and consider legislation sent to them from the legislative committees. There will be numerous reports, recognitions, and moments of celebration. Each day adjourns at 6:30 p.m.
How do delegates decide who governs the legislative committees (election of committee officers—chair, vice, secretary, etc.)?
Initially, for each legislative committee, a bishop appointed by the Council of Bishops serves as chairperson and an organizing secretary appointed by the Secretary of the General Conference serves as the secretary. They serve in these capacities solely for the purpose of organizing the committee.
At the first meeting of the legislative committee, the first order of business is orientation of the committee, and the second thing done is election of officers. The chairperson, vice-chairperson, secretary, and sub-committee chairpersons of each committee are elected by separate sequential written ballot for each position. Consideration for diversity of geography, age, gender, ethnicity, clergy, and lay is encouraged.
Once these officers are elected, how do they know what their specific roles and responsibilities are as a committee officer?
The Secretary of General Conference is responsible for training all chairpersons, vice-chairpersons, secretaries, and sub-committee chairpersons of legislative committees. The training includes instruction in duties, all procedures in handling petitions, the times of the daily deadlines for publishing reports, and other information to expedite the work of the committee. No officer can serve without completing this training.
After sub-committees complete their work, what happens next?
Once each legislative committee is divided into sub committees, they elect their chair and secretary who will report out to the full legislative committee their work. Because every piece of legislation must be reviewed and acted on, the sub committees discuss, perfect (combine if two like or similar petitions exist) and determine their recommendation by vote on how to move the legislation forward. Then the elected persons report this to the full committee with recommendations for action by the full subcommittee. This is where the real deep dive goes into the committee work.
Then what happens next?
The legislative committee receives the actions of the subcommittee and recommendations and rational. After discussion, the legislation is dealt with. If rejected, then the petition dies. If approved, then it goes forward to the full plenary through the calendar and coordination committee. It is at this time the legislation can be placed into the consent agenda which is passed without further discussion because of the majority action on the legislation or it will go to the plenary floor for action. These presentations are presented to the full body by the legislative committee chair. It is at this time additional material and rationale reasons can be present for full action of the General Conference.
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