Global nature task force proposes a U.S. central conference


By Linda Green

United Methodist News Service


MAPUTO, Mozambique — A group of United Methodists examining the global nature of the denomination is proposing that the United States become a Central Conference.


The proposal introduced to the United Methodist Council of Bishops on Nov. 3 would end the current system that splits the United States from the central conferences that govern the church outside the United States and would revise the United Methodist Book of Discipline into a "truly general book of doctrine, mission and discipline, deleting all portions that apply only to the United States."


The existing U.S. jurisdictional conferences would exist within a U.S. Central Conference.


The proposal would group all five U.S. jurisdictions into one central conference, putting it on par with the central conferences already in existence. If approved, the changes would take effect in 2012.


Nebraska Bishop Ann Sherer, a member of the task force studying the church's global nature, said that as conversations delved into the worldwide connection of the church and how the church was expanding outside the United States, "we found that the U.S. church needs to get our act together," adding that the proposal is an attempt to clarify the church's desire to be a more worldwide denomination.


Each central conference would have a Book of Discipline outlining rules applicable to its life and ministry. Other publications such as hymnals could be tailored for each central conference.


The proposal which suggests the changes to the 2008 General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body, comes from a joint task force of bishops and members of the Connectional Table, the key coordinating arm of the denomination. Since 1964, the church has had numerous studies, task groups and legislative attempts to clarify the worldwide nature of the denomination.


These changes would require approval by the General Conference. "These changes would strengthen our missional effectiveness for the 21st century in a globalized world," said Kansas Bishop Scott Jones, during a Nov. 4 press conference. "There is the need for a better structure for the future. This is a mission-driven proposal."


While adding flexibility and support for regional units of the church, "the changes … do not solve all the problems facing the church. … They do address the fundamental structures and processes," the task force concluded.


The power of the General Conference will essentially remain the same, Jones said. Churchwide agencies will remain as agencies for the whole church. The Judicial Council would remain as a general church body elected by the General Conference. The Council of Bishops remains as the council for the entire church.


"The proposal does not change the way the church talks about homosexuality, abortion or other hot-button issues," he added.


Since the Social Principles already subscribe to the church's global nature, they will not be changed but the Book of Resolutions, the task force said, would be divided into categories that are general and applicable to the whole world and those of U.S. concern.


What the proposal does, Jones said, is strengthen the United Methodist identity as a global church by clarifying the parts of the Discipline that are global and which are parts that can and should be determined regionally."


Central conferences, including the United States, would consider resolutions pertinent to their regions. They could create and fund their own agencies, establish their own educational requirements for clergy and establish mission initiatives appropriate for their context.


Jones added that the principle portion of the residential percentage (75-80 percent) of General Conference votes would be retained by the United States. "What we are doing is freeing up each section to deal with its own issues while strengthening the church," he explained.