The General Conference of the United Methodist Church convened in Tampa last week. I’m not one of the 988 delegates who have descended on Florida to do the work of our church, nor of the 4,000 hosts, bishops, pages, translators and myriad lobbyists there to help. My participation is limited to following the proceedings from 1,000 miles away.
Still, my emotions have been all over the place. And judging from Twitter and Facebook, this roller coaster of highs and lows is almost universal among those who are there. The stakes feel high this year, higher than usual.
Among the means of grace John Wesley lists “Christian conferencing.” Summer is always a popular time for Christians to congregate at denominational meetings, and this summer has been particularly so for me.
When a friend of mine was invited to a retirement party, he responded, “Sorry, can’t make it. I am going to be climbing a mountain in Kenya. Besides, I prefer to live in the future, not the past.” There is nothing inherently wrong with retirement parties, but my friend has a point. Living in the future should take preference over living in the past.
Seizing the blessings of a rising stock market and unexpectedly plentiful reserve funds, the United Methodist General Conference approved millions of dollars for innovative programs serving overseas churches, ethnic groups in the U.S., young people, older adults, urban needs, ministries to the deaf, and even the production of cable TV spots to attract new members.
When United Methodist delegates take their seats at the church’s May 2-12 General Conference in Cleveland, they’ll be facing decisions on 2,500 or more pieces of legislation, including a far-reaching proposal to restructure the denomination.
United Methodist clergy have long had the guarantee of paid assignments in a pulpit or other ministries, but an interim study is recommending that the denomination’s 2012 General Conference end the practice, which one study commission member said has led to “a culture of mediocrity” among ministers.
The United Methodist Church is withholding funds from two of its seminaries until they submit updated financial reports, and one campus—Claremont School of Theology in southern California—will also have to defend its proposed reconfiguration into a multireligious university.