2011 church restructure plan headed to vote

1/5/2012

A UMNS Report by Heather Hahn*

When General Conference meets in 2012, the denomination’s top lawmaking body will consider legislation to consolidate nine of the denomination's 13 general agencies into a new United Methodist Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry.

A 15-member board of directors would govern the center. That board would be accountable to a 45-member advisory board called the General Council for Strategy and Oversight, which would replace the Connectional Table that currently coordinates the denomination's mission, ministries and resources.

Under the legislation, the center’s board would be in place and have its first meeting by July 31, 2012.

This restructuring proposal took shape in 2011 as part of the Call to Action process, which aims to foster more vital congregations.

The Council of Bishops and Connectional Table initiated the Call to Action process “to reorder the life of the church” two years ago in the wake of four decades of declining U.S. membership and the 2008 global economic crisis.

The reorganization plan originated with the Interim Operations Team, eight laity and clergy working with denominational leaders to implement the Call to Action recommendations. The Interim Operations Team has been meeting since February.

The Connectional Table refined and endorsed the team's recommendations in July. In August, using email, Connectional Table members voted 26 to eight to send the drafted legislation to General Conference. Nine members abstained.

In November, the Council of Bishops voted overwhelmingly by a show of hands to endorse the proposed restructuring. Bishops do not vote at General Conference. However, there are no limits on conversations with delegates and other church members outside the sessions.

The proposed changes would help general agencies work more effectively with annual conferences to support and grow vital congregations, said Neil M. Alexander and Illinois Area Bishop Gregory V. Palmer. Alexander, president and publisher of the United Methodist Publishing House, and Palmer have led the Interim Operations Team.

However, some United Methodists are already voicing concerns about the plan.

Leaders of five groups that represent the denomination’s ethnic constituencies caution that the proposed restructuring “minimizes and will exclude the participation of racial/ethnic persons, and works against the principle of inclusiveness that we see as one of the important values our church has to offer.”

Some General Conference delegates from the Northeastern Jurisdiction also have said they find the legislation “troubling.”

Members of the denomination’s unofficial caucuses also are weighing in on the proposed restructuring. Good News, an evangelical group, sees the proposal as a move “in the right direction,” said the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, the group’s vice president and general manager.

Meanwhile, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, a progressive group, has submitted legislation for an alternative reorganization that would preserve agencies dedicated to monitoring race and gender discrimination.

Almost everyone agrees the denomination needs to change. But it’s up to General Conference to decide what that change will look like when it convenes April 24-May 4, 2012, in Tampa, Fla.

Other possible changes

The Council of Bishops and Connectional Table also have endorsed these proposals before General Conference:

  • A measure that would allow the Council of Bishops to elect one of its own to a full-time, four-year position as president without the usual responsibilities of overseeing a geographic area.
  • Folding the denomination’s ecumenical agency, the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, and its work into the Council of Bishops.
  • A proposal to make United Methodist Women a separate agency rather than part of Board of Global Ministries.
  • Eliminating “security of appointment” for elders in good standing, allowing elders who do not receive appointments to be in transitional leave status.

*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.