By Rev. Robert Beckum
The South Georgia Annual Conference Delegation for General and Jurisdictional Conferences met in Macon on October 21. Dan O’Neil and Peter Hang from the General Board of Pensions offered the delegation a detailed briefing on three legislative proposals being sent to the General Conference. Past General Conferences have generally approved recommendations coming from the Board of Pensions as presented or with minor editorial changes. In 2012, however, delegates will have to decide on one of three corrective options to ensure the financial sustainability of the church’s pension program. All current pension commitments will remain unchanged by the proposals; however, decisions made at next year’s General Conference will impact all pension benefits for both clergy and lay employees after 2012. Any corrective option chosen will result in reduced future benefits. The question before the General Conference will be the question of how to most fairly balance those reductions in benefits while still preparing clergy and laity for retirement.
In addition to issues related to the church’s pension program, Dr. Hal Brady led the delegation in a preview of the sweeping changes proposed in the size and structure of the church’s 13 general boards and agencies. Proposals from the General Council on Finance and Administration would reduce the number and the size of boards and agencies by some 40 percent. It is a radical call for restructuring and downsizing resulting in better stewardship, more effective ministry and financial sustainability. There are far reaching implications to the restructuring that include both reduction in staff and board member representation.
Dr. Ben Martin led the delegation in a review of the final study of ministry report from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. The 168-page summary of the study includes changes in many processes now overseen by conference committees on investigation and boards of ordained ministry. The most controversial change is the study’s call for the elimination of the “guarantee of appointment” for clergy.
After reviewing a broad sweep of other proposed legislation the delegation ended its meeting with an extended time of discussion and discernment concerning proposed Episcopal candidates for Jurisdictional Conference. General Conference is April 24-May 4 in Tampa, Fla. Jurisdictional Conference is July 18-20 at Lake Junaluska, N.C.
Future meeting dates for the South Georgia Delegation include January 26, February 24 and March 22. We continue to solicit the prayers of all South Georgia for our work and we truly want the input of any hopes and concerns you might have for your church as we approach these important gatherings of United Methodism. You can communicate with the delegation at firstname.lastname@example.org or (706) 327-4343.
Rev. Robert Beckum serves as senior pastor at St. Luke United Methodist Church in Columbus. He can be reached at email@example.com.