General Conference wraps up with passage of budget, decision on bishops

Above, delegates, visitors and staff of the 2024 United Methodist General Conference in Charlotte, N.C., dance in the aisles following morning worship on the final day of the conference. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News. 

By Jessica Brodie

The United Methodist Church now has the green light on a budget for the next quadrennium. And while it’s far smaller to accommodate the reduced size of the denomination, it accomplishes what General Secretary of the General Council on Finance and Administration Moses Kumar calls a “solution” to funding all the church strives to handle.

The last day of General Conference May 3 brought passage of the budget before lunch, as well as a plan for how many bishops each United States jurisdiction will get.

Budget passes

The body overwhelming passed a budget Friday that takes into account two scenarios—a 2.6 percent base rate for apportionment calculations and one that starts at 2.6 and jumps to 2.9 percent if collections reach 90 percent.

The budget at the 2.6 percent base rate is $353.6 million.

The budget at the 2.6 percent and 2.9 percent base rate is $373.4 million.

The total budget comprises seven different funds: the World Service Fund, Ministerial Education Fund, Black College Fund, Africa University Fund, Episcopal Fund, General Administration Fund and Interdenominational Cooperation Fund.

“We are committed,” Kumar said. “We will trust in God that our members will support the church with their prayers, presence, gifts and witness.”

For comparison, the budget for the last quadrennium was $604 million.

The final approved budget adds a fifth mission strategy to the church, shifting the UMC from four areas of focus for the next quadrennium to five.

The five areas of focus are as follows:

1.     Leading Where God Calls

2.     Making New Disciples in New Places

3.     Overcoming Poverty Together

4.     Seeking Health and Wholeness for All

5.     The Eradication of Racism, White Supremacy, Patriarchy and Colonialism

Bishop plan

Also on Friday, General Conference voted 631-65 to approve a plan for how many bishops each United States jurisdiction will have given the new rules passed mandating at least five bishops per jurisdiction.

Kim Ingram, of the Interjurisdictional Committee on the Episcopacy, offered their unanimous recommendation that 32 bishops will serve the jurisdictions for the 2025-2028 quadrennium as follows:

Southeastern Jurisdiction: 9

Northeastern Jurisdiction: 6

North Central Jurisdiction: 6

South Central Jurisdiction: 6

Western Jurisdiction: 5

In practicality, this means two bishops would need to transfer to the Western Jurisdiction for 2025-2028 and one would need to transfer to the NEJ. Those bishops transferring to the WJ and NEJ would arise out of a lengthy consultation process with all the bishops about their continuing service. Ingram noted a bishop must consent to a transfer.

Sexual responsibility

After lunch, delegates approved new language specifying what clergy are asked to comply with to qualify for ordination.

In their qualifications for ordination, clergy are no longer asked to agree asked to agree to exercise “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness” but rather now to exercise “social responsibility and faithful sexual responsibility expressed through fidelity, monogamy, commitment, mutual affection and respect, careful and honest communication, mutual consent, and growth in grace and in the knowledge and love of God.”

Originally, the language had advocated changing “celibacy” to “chastity,” as the committee noted celibacy is a misnomer because it can mean remaining unmarried rather than addressing whether a person has conjugal relations.

Pastors can perform—or refuse to perform—gay weddings

Next, General Conference passed three petitions pertaining to gay weddings.

The body passed 474-206 legislation removing being gay or performing a gay wedding ceremony from the list of chargeable offenses for pastors. Specifically, the legislation struck “being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies” from the list of chargeable offenses.

This petition becomes effective at the close of the 2024 General Conference and applies retroactively to any pending complaints under the applicable subsections.

The body passed 447-233 legislation regarding pastoral conduct, removing a ban on conducting homosexual unions by ministers or in churches.

Committee Chair Lindsey Freeman said the committee concluded the decision to officiate a gay marriage resides with the authority of the clergyperson.

“It doesn’t mandate but rather it allows for discernment of the decision to perform weddings to the clergyperson,” Freeman said.

This petition also becomes effective at the close of the postponed 2020 General Conference.

And the body passed 479-203 adding language to the responsibilities and duties of elders and licensed pastors, noting that clergy cannot be compelled to perform or provide for, or be prohibited from performing, any marriage, union or blessing of any couple—including same-sex couples.

Apology for sexual misconduct

Also Friday afternoon, General Conference issued a heartfelt apology to all who experienced sexual misconduct in The United Methodist Church.

The apology, part of a resolution passed in the last hour of General Conference, comes in the spirit of offering healing for all affected.

The Rev. Gary Graves, secretary of the General Conference, apologized on behalf of the UMC for the way the church can prevent people from being held accountable for sexual misconduct, thus perpetuating harm within local churches and other ministry settings and damaging the United Methodist connection.

“The United Methodist Church apologizes for the times we allowed our desire to protect the Church to outweigh our desire to care for victims and survivors of sexual misconduct. We have allowed polity and protection of the institutional Church prevent us from holding persons,” Graves said, reading the letter from the stage. 

“We apologize for the times we have not listened to you, doubted your stories, ignored your wounds, and have not tended to your pain. We believe this has contributed to allowing an unsafe culture to exist.”

The denomination’s Social Principles maintain that sexual harassment is an exploitation of a power relationship that interferes with the moral mission of the church. However, many people have been mistreated, abused and assaulted by church leaders, both clergy and lay.

Council of Bishops President Tracy Smith Malone said the apology provides an opportunity for the church to acknowledge the harm done to survivors and victims of sexual misconduct.

Other legislation passes at very end of session

The following passed at the very end of the gathering:

·      Petition 20956, Revision of Para. 101 for General Conference 2020 – revised for postponed 2020 General Conference

·      Petition 20332, Racial Justice

·      Petition 20240, Constitutional Gender Protection, to amend Para. 4 to add gender and ability to inclusion for worship service attendance

·      Petition 20928, Make Current the Readmission After Termination Process: Any clergyperson who surrendered their credentials because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or because they officiated a gay wedding can apply for readmission and be reinstated through a streamlined and clearer process.

‘God is God’

Malone closed the postponed 2020 General Conference at 6:30 by inviting all to walk together and to never grow weary of doing the work of the kin-dom.

“As you go forth, tell the world about Jesus,” Malone said. “As you go, tell them about his love. As you go, be love, be joy, be peace, be patient, be kind, be good, be faithful, be gentle, be the body of Christ. As you go, be still and know that God is God, and God can be trusted.”

Full coverage of general conference in the next edition
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