General Conference 2024

Overview of United Methodist General Conference 2024

The United Methodist Church holds a General Conference (GC) once every 4 years (quadrennium). Delegates to GC address a wide range of topics through petitions that have been submitted or raised at the time of the conference.  Petitions can be submitted by any member of the United Methodist Church for consideration.  Typically, legislation requires a simple majority to pass.  Constitutional amendments require a 2/3 majority at GC and will then be addressed at each Annual Conference requiring a 2/3 aggregate vote across all conferences.  Changes to restrictive rules (which are at the heart of denominational doctrine) require a ¾ majority vote and will be addressed by Annual Conferences. In addition to resolutions, legislation, and amendments, the General Conference addresses will also approve the budget, UMC Hymnal, and Book of Worship.

The delegates of the General Conference are composed of an equal number of laity and clergy number 600 to 1000.  Delegates are elected by their conferences – laity elect laity, clergy elect clergy. The number of delegates assigned to each conference is based on the total number of clergy and members within that conference.  Each Conference will receive at least two delegates (1 clergy and 1 lay person).  This year the largest conferences have been assigned 22 delegates.  Virginia is one of the conferences receiving this number.

This year General Conference will be held in Charlotte, NC from April 23rd to May 3rd. General Conference is one of the most important aspects of the connectional nature of our denomination. General Conference not only is important in addressing the business of the church, but also is an important opportunity for United Methodists to come together share news and culture from all over the world and join in worship and prayer.  It is important that the legislative and business aspects of GC do not overshadow this very important function.
Some of the hot topics that are scheduled to be discussed at this year’s General Conference are regionalization, creation of a U.S. Regional Conference, revisions to Wespath (clergy, conference, and lay employee) retirement plans, Wespath’s role in sustainable and socially responsible investment, human sexuality, revisions to social principles.

The discussion on regionalization is designed to address the global diversity that we now find in the United Methodist Church. In 1980, over 90% of United Methodist churches were within the United States.  At this point, we are creeping close to 50% of congregations located outside of the U.S.  For this reason, it is imperative not just to facilitate the global growth of the United Methodist Church, but also to provide equity across UMC membership globally, that we reconsider both language and structure.  One of the most significant changes being addressed is a restructuring of denominational bodies.  Currently, most conferences in the UMC fall under either Jurisdictional Conferences (5 regions within the United States) and Central Conferences (most conferences in the rest of the world).  To create a more equitable distribution of power and authority, it has been proposed that instead of the previously stated structure, there would be Regional Conferences – U.S., Africa, Philippines, and Europe. This would provide each of these regions be able to have more agility in enacting legislation appropriate for their conferences, congregations, and members.  It would have the effect of beginning to make the denomination less U.S.-centric.  It would also allow the U.S. Conference to be able to be more responsive to the needs here without occupying time during the General Conference or requiring input from conferences outside of the U.S.

To read more on this topic Click Here.
Wespath Initiated Petition
There are several Wespath petitions that will be addressed at General Conference this year.  Most of those have more to do with minor administrative changes and language.
Retirement Plan Revisions
One petition that has been identified as a hot topic for the coming General Conference addresses retirement plans for clergy, conference staff and lay employees of the congregation.  Wespath is an agency of the UMC responsible for managing retirement and pension plans. As the membership of the United Methodist Church has decreased, Wespath has considered ways that they can help ensure financial stability for those employed as clergy or otherwise into retirement and beyond.  The current pension model is not considered sustainable because of the financial demand that would be placed on congregations.  However, they are proposing a COMPASS plan which would be made up of employee contributions, conference contributions, and income generated through investment of these funds.  VUMPI (the Virginia Conference organization that manages retirement, etc.) believes that this plan not only ensures a sustainable solution of the conference (and the denomination as a whole) but also cares for our retired clergy and lay people.

Another important issue that has been addressed by a Wespath petition is the divestment of Wespath (therefore the UMC) from companies whose practices are not consistent with our social principles.  One of the responsibilities of this agency is to ensure that any investments made are done in a way that has a positive impact on the planet and the human condition.  This means that we seek to invest our funds in businesses that are environmentally responsible and don’t have practices that are detrimental socially or physically to people.  However, the issue that has been raised is whether we should divest from companies that are nonconforming. Wespath argues that by divesting we are removing ourselves from the sphere of influence and the conversation.  They are suggesting that by remaining in relationships with companies that are nonconforming, we can have influence on their practices and impact a shift in policy.
To can read more about Wespath petitions Click Here.

Human Sexuality
One of the most visible issues being addressed at the General Conference this year has to do with Human Sexuality and the inclusivity of the LGBTQIA+ community.  This issue is likely the one that most people outside of the United Methodist Church are most familiar with.
Social Principles
At the 2012 General Conference, there was a proposal that our Social Principles document be fully revised.  This was further confirmed by the 2016 General Conference.  The intention was that the proposed draft would be discussed and voted on at the 2020 General Conference, but because of the pandemic, the 2020 General Conference was not held.  Therefore, this document will be presented at this year’s General Conference.  Revisions and changes were intended to make the document more relevant today and tightly tied to Wesleyan Theology and scripture. (The current Social Principles document was approved at the 1972 General Conference.) Among these changes is a shift to more inclusive language (i.e. “… we affirm marriage as a sacred, lifelong covenant that brings two people…”).  There is also an article addressing bullying to include sexual orientation targeted bullying.
To read the revised draft of Social Principles, Click Here.

Book of Discipline
The 2019 Traditional Plan maintained the prohibition of the ordination of practicing gay clergy, the ability of clergy to officiate gay marriages, or for United Methodist churches to host gay weddings.  Much of the work that has been done recognizing the LGBTQIA+ community in the social principles including the 1972 statement that homosexual people are people of equal worth in the eyes of God is undermined by these mandates.  As our culture evolves, particularly among younger people, this aspect of our denomination has had an impact on growth – and even sustainability.  These prohibitive clauses place some congregations in a difficult position where they must consider leaving the denomination to be consistent with their congregational beliefs.  There have been instances of new UMC confirmands who have confirmed their baptism but have declined to join the church.  There is also an impact on evangelism.  While we are open to gay people being members and a part of the life of the church, the prohibition clauses communicate a lack of welcome and acceptance to gay people in general.
To read more regarding the Book of Discipline statements on homosexuality, Click Here. 

More general information on General Conference 2020:
Overview of all the legislation submitted for consideration: Click Here
VAUMC Resources for General Conference: Click Here
UMC Resources for General Conference: Resources for General Conference: click here.

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