Response: November 2015 Issue

What Is General Conference?

The General Conference of The United Methodist Church meets in May 2016 in Portland, Oregon. United Methodist Women will, and must, be there.

What Is General Conference?
Deaconess Becky Louter prays over seats at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla.

Nearly 1,000 delegates will gather from every corner of the world to attend the quadrennial General Conference of The United Methodist Church May 10-20, 2016, in Portland, Oregon. The theme of the gathering, "Therefore, Go," is based on Matthew 28:19-20: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

The 2016 General Conference promises to be a lively and passionate time for United Methodists who will debate such issues as marriage equality, divestment and church structures. The conference will revise church law and adopt resolutions on moral, social, economic and public policy. The delegates will also plan and budget for churchwide programs. General Conference is the only decision-making body for the entire denomination.

"The purpose of the United Methodist Church's General Conference aligns with United Methodist Women's mission of justice advocacy for systemic change," said Sung-ok Lee, deaconess and United Methodist Women assistant general secretary. "Given the mission of United Methodist Women, of affecting systemic change for women, children and youth, we consider General Conference to be a forum for institutional and structural change for marginalized communities within the church and community.

"Just as the U.S. government has a legislative, executive and judicial branch, the United Methodist Church has its governance structure in a similar way," Ms. Lee continued. "The three parts — General Conference delegates, the Council of Bishops and the Judicial Council — work in cooperation to empower the legislative body of General Conference to set policy for the whole church. Thus, it is important for United Methodist Women to participate as change agents in the church's top policymaking body and advocacy forum for women and children around the world."

Many United Methodist Women members, leaders in their churches, will serve as representatives, elected from their annual conferences. Delegates are elected from the United States, the Philippines, Africa and Europe; half of the 864 total delegates are clergy and half are laity. Bishops attend General Conference but cannot vote. Hundreds of volunteers will attend the conference to support the legislative process — as pages, marshals or recorders. Hundreds of activists and lobbyists will attend the conference to raise awareness on timely causes and concerns for the entire church.

"Over much of the history of the Methodist tradition, through active participation in the whole church's growth, the United Methodist Women organization has earned the reputation as a bridge-builder and innovator to take the church into the 21st century with vigor and vitality," Ms. Lee said. "We continue to be reconcilers of God's peace and justice for people of the church and community, particularly the most vulnerable — the women, the poor and communities of color.

General Conference 2016 will be an opportunity to forge a new level of restorative justice in the current world and to build the Church where equity, kindness and love prevail and greed and hate are melted down and a new heaven and a new earth are created."

The delegates will consider thousands of resolutions and petitions, which have been proposed by a variety of individuals, agencies, conferences and groups within The United Methodist Church. United Methodist Women will submit resolutions and petitions. At the 2012 General Conference, United Methodist Women became an organization separate from the General Board of Global Ministries through passage of legislation. Alongside the policymaking activities of the General Conference, United Methodist Women will participate in side events, demonstrations and prayer vigils.

During the 2012 General Conference, dozens of United Methodist Women members and staff helped support a deaconess and home missioner prayer room, a quiet place for reflection for all to unwind from the frantic pace of the conference.

"My hope is that ways be found to reshape our organization, our structures and some of our thinking and ways of working that will open doors, provide highways and avenues for God's message of love to be shared in new and bold ways," prayed Deaconess Leslie Hobson, youth and family ministries director at Park United Methodist Church in Brainerd, Minnesota. "My hope is that our human desires and understandings not block any progress that can be made to further God's kin-dom here on earth through the United Methodist Church."

Ms. Lee, too, looks forward to courageous conversations to change the denomination, continuing the bold, sustaining and hope-filled actions of women in the past.

"Through General Conferences past, we have advocated for the full participation of women in the United Methodist Church, broke down barriers of race and gender and trained women lay leaders, young and old, to be Bible Women, deaconesses and regional missionaries and to be bold, courageous, edgy, unreasonable agents for change," she said. "We are ready to step out into a challenging space this General Conference to push debate around tough but needed dialogue of the issues we face today. May the power of the Holy Spirit guide us in sustaining ways."


Mary Beth Coudal is interim managing editor of response. Information is compiled from United Methodist Communications, the General Board of Global Ministries and United Methodist Women press releases and e-mails from Sung-ok Lee.

Posted or updated: 11/2/2015 12:00:00 AM
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