Because of pandemic travel issues, new date is Aug. 29 to Sept. 6, 2022, in Minneapolis
Organizers of General Conference have again postponed the worldwide United Methodist gathering. The new date is Aug. 29 to Sept. 6, 2022, to be held in Minneapolis.
General Conference is the highest legislative body in The United Methodist Church. It usually convenes once every four years to determine the denomination’s future direction. Lay and clergy delegates from every conference in the UMC—including eight laity and eight clergy from South Carolina—attend and vote on the matters, considering revisions to church law, passing budgets and more.
Denominational stands on sexuality and other major issues are among the legislative topics slated for the gathering.
Originally, General Conference 2020 was slated for May 5-15, 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic prompted organizers to shift it to Aug. 29 to Sept. 7, 2021. However, in their meeting Feb. 20, the Commission on the General Conference made a decision to further postpone the event until 2022 because of the continued impact the pandemic is having on the safety of mass gatherings and travel.
In a statement, the commission noted several key reasons for the postponement: the rising number of COVID cases the week of Feb. 15, when they made their decision; even though a vaccine is available in many places, the vaccine is not expected to be widely available this year in many countries; new variants of the virus, which may be resistant to vaccines, are emerging globally; international travelers to the U.S. must show proof of negative COVID-19 test results no more than three days prior to travel, but in many places, testing is not readily available or provided free of charge; and visa services remain limited in some areas.
In his Feb. 25 statement on the postponement of General Conference, South Carolina Resident Bishop L. Jonathan Holston urged people to turn toward God for guidance and understanding during this time.
“As a global church, it is important that delegates address any legislation that would affect the future of our denomination only when it is safe and possible for all delegates to convene in person—thus ensuring full and equitable participation,” Holston said. “God has called us together as United Methodists to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. My friends, this is the work of our church. As we continue to focus on our mission and ministry, may we fervently seek God’s guidance so we can do what we need to do here and now.”
The commission said their decision was informed by the report of a Technology Study Team appointed to explore the implications of options for accommodating full participation at General Conference, including but not limited to the possibility of utilizing technology and online voting, in considering whether the meeting should be held virtually.
The team analyzed a variety of options, including an entirely electronic General Conference with participation from individual locations; an entirely electronic General Conference with delegates gathering at regional satellite hubs; and two sessions, with the first part being electronic and the second part in-person when it is safe to convene.
None of these options were determined by the study team to be viable.
The study team did find that a more traditional method—utilizing mail ballots to vote on emergency actions—could help The United Methodist Church to address important, urgent matters through the General Conference.
Some of the concerns mentioned in the report regarding having a virtual session include lack of infrastructure in some areas, including internet access, internet speed and electricity; lack of technology for equitable holy conferencing; complexity of the legislative committee process; concerns about accurate credentialing and verification of identity; difficulties in seating reserve delegates properly; security of voting; and safety concerns about regional satellite gatherings.
Bishops call for Special Session, then decide against it
On Feb. 24, after the announcement of the 2022 postponement of General Conference, the Council of Bishops called a Special Session of General Conference to be convened online on May 8.
The COB said the purpose of the 2021 Special Session would be limited to gaining a quorum in order to suspend the rules for the sole purpose of allowing the use of paper ballots to act upon 12 pieces of legislation that would enable the church to effectively continue its work until 2022.
However, on March 22, the COB met again and decided the cancel that Special Session “in the best interest of the church.”
Instead, they plan to engage in deeper listening as they prepare for 2022 and the timelines involved.
Holston again released a statement in reaction to the decision, urging prayer in the midst of all this change.
“While it is important to be aware of developments in our denomination, I encourage you to continue to maintain your focus on ministry and mission in your congregations and communities, and on our shared mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” Holston noted March 22. “I also renew this challenge from a month ago: Let us fervently seek God’s guidance so we can do what we need to do in this moment. Let us be the leaders that our neighbors need to make a difference for the sake of Christ. Let us commit to growing as disciples and engaging with our communities. Let us take the next faithful step to courageously answer the call to follow where God leads.”
Jurisdictional meetings still unknown
When the 2020 General Conference shifted to Aug. 29 to Sept. 7, 2021, Jurisdictional Conference meetings also changed. The 2020 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference was set for Nov. 10-12, 2021.
However, after the call for a 2021 Special Session of General Conference, there was talk of need for a 2021 Jurisdictional Conference, tentatively slated for July.
With the cancellation of the Special Session, it is unknown as of press time when Jurisdictional Conference meetings will be held.
The Advocate hopes to announce this information soon.