Day 8 of General Conference ends longtime ban on gay clergy

Above, Jesi Lipp, a lay delegate from the Great Plains Conference, reacts May 1 after General Conference voted to remove The United Methodist Church’s ban on the ordination of clergy who are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” — a prohibition that dates to 1984. Photo by Larry McCormack, UM News.

By Jessica Brodie

General Conference ended a 40-year ban on gay clergy on Day Eight of the event, May 1. That, along with a host of items—including the green light for a new Compass retirement plan, passage of four Jurisdictional Study Committee petitions, the final regionalism petition and elections—wrapped up an often-emotional day of church business.

Regarding gay clergy and gay weddings

The day started with worship led by Bishop David Wilson and focusing on the day’s theme, “In The Remembering… Know that I am God,” drawing from Hebrews 12:1-2 and 13:7.

The service featured Native American performers and also remembered those bishops, delegates and others who died since the last gathering of The United Methodist Church.

Wednesday morning saw the overwhelming passage of three consent calendars that contained a number of critical legislative items, including removing a ban on “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from being certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.

Consent calendar items are for legislation passed overwhelmingly in committee that only requires a majority and does not have financial implications.

In addition to the ban on gay clergy, the consent calendar also included new provisions that clergy shall not be penalized for performing, or refraining from performing, a same-sex marriage service, and local churches cannot be required to hold or prohibit a same-sex marriage service on property owned by a local church.

They also included petitions to encourage selection of a young adult district lay leader or associate district lay leader, as well as inviting people of faith to provide radical hospitality and sanctuary to immigrants and refugees.

After the vote, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward stood to offer a prayer for healing and memory of our journey to this place.

“We give thanks for your expansive love and inbreaking light, and we ask that you would use us as peacemakers and servants for the healing of your world and in the welcoming of all people into the embrace of God.”

During the break, hundreds of delegates and observers gathered in a circle as they hugged, cried, and lifted their voices in hymns such as “Child of God” and “Draw the Circle Wide.”

Marilyn Murphy, an observer from the South Carolina Conference who has seen the church debate this issue for decades, said she was surprised it was embedded in the consent calendar but not surprised it passed.

“We’ve been going on like this since the ‘70s and, finally, in just a brief few minutes with no debate, it was gone. And now we can get on about the business of the church.”

Virginia Lee, an observer from the Virginia Conference, shared her joy.

“It’s a great day! And that just says it all.”

Tomorrow, one remaining item is slated for the consent calendar B06, Maternal Health: The Church’s Role.

“Our mission has not changed”

Bishop L. Jonathan Holston, resident bishop of the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church, released this statement following the General Conference’s removal of restrictive language concerning human sexuality from The UMC Book of Discipline:

“Today, the General Conference of The United Methodist Church removed language from the denomination’s Book of Discipline that prohibits the ordination of openly gay pastors and the performance of same-sex weddings. It is important to remember that the work of the General Conference is not finished, and I ask you all to remain in prayer for all the bishops, delegates and attendees.

“I know that some of you are celebrating, some are mourning, and some are uncertain and frightened about what the future holds – for the denomination, for your local church, and perhaps even for yourselves as followers of Jesus Christ.

“The last time the General Conference acted on matters concerning human sexuality, back in 2019, I challenged South Carolinians – regardless of whether you are pleased or saddened by the actions of the General Conference – not to see it as a day to declare winners and losers.

“Today, I am asking you to do the same. Today, I am asking you to take advantage of this opportunity to seek God’s grace together. Today, I am asking you to remember that we are still one church, one Body of Christ.

“Also, please know this: The mission of The United Methodist Church has not changed. The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world by proclaiming the good news of God's grace and by exemplifying Jesus’ command to love God and neighbor, seeking the fulfillment of God's reign and realm in the world.

“From this, we will not waver. From this, we will not be deterred. In this, we will remain steadfast.

“My friends, there is so much kingdom-building work to be done – so many people who so desperately need to hear the life-changing good news of Jesus Christ – and the laborers are few.

“Let us continue to labor…together. Let us continue to have the difficult conversations…together. Let us continue to pray…together. Let us continue to be God’s people…together.

“If we do this, I am confident we will be who God needs for us to be.”

Delegates eliminate formula for calculating bishops

Jurisdictions across the United States will have more say about the number of bishops they need, thanks to new legislation that passed during General Conference.

By Day 8, the body had rejected one but passed four of the five petitions recommended by a Jurisdictional Study Committee, eliminating the formula for calculating bishops while guaranteeing at least five bishops per jurisdiction.

General Conference 2016 created the Jurisdictional Study Committee to examine the number, boundaries and missional priorities of the jurisdictions. A diverse group, the Committee comprises clergy, laity and bishops from all five jurisdictions.

Lonnie Chafin, Fred Brewington and Susan Brumbaugh presented their report to the body Tuesday, April 30, noting they had concluded the current jurisdictions and boundaries are appropriate as-is, and that the jurisdictions themselves are in a better position to assess their need for numbers of bishops.

Key is their assessment that the formula The United Methodist Church had used for calculating bishops in each jurisdiction is no longer an accurate reflection of leadership needs.

“Let’s face it,” Brumbaugh said. “Our membership is changing rapidly, and that formula is no longer serving us well.”

Four legislative items passed Tuesday and Wednesday. Three were included in consent calendars and one on the floor with a 666-43 vote. These did the following:

·      Eliminated the formula for calculating bishops in each jurisdiction;

·      Established a minimum number of bishops (five) for each jurisdiction;

·      Established a process for jurisdictions to request any additional bishops needed, which means those jurisdictions who believe they need more than five bishops can discern how many they need;

·      Established that if a jurisdiction wants more than five bishops, the jurisdiction, not the denomination, will pay for those bishop costs; and

·      Authorized the Interjurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy to receive and act on any requests from jurisdictions for additional bishops.

The one item that did not pass pertained to episcopal office costs. General Conference elected not to remove episcopal office expenses of jurisdictional bishops from the Episcopal Fund apportionment but to retain the current practice of apportioning the office expenses of the central conference bishops. The Jurisdictional Study Committee had wanted annual conferences, not the Episcopal Fund, to pay for these expenses, but the legislation failed on the floor 437-254.

Compass plan gets green light

Later in the morning, delegates approved two motions for a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council—one on an issue regarding retired bishops and the other on whether eliminating travel costs for retired bishops is constitutional or conflicts with our Social Principles, as it requires them to pay their own travel expenses for global leadership.

Next, the body considered a switch from their pension-based system for retired clergy to Compass, a contribution-based plan. But debate ensued on equitable pay and other concerns. A motion to refer the petition to the General Council on Finance and Administration failed (461-262).

Noting the Financial Administration legislative committee recommended passage, Committee Chair Scott Brewer reminded the body the plans are “not set in stone tablets.”

“We will come back in 2028 for continued adjustment,” Brewer said.

The legislation to switch to the Compass retirement plan passed 658-64.

Goodbye Para. 2553, hello 2554

In one of the day’s more controversial items, General Conference passed Petition 21087 (519-203) to remove the disaffiliation agreement by deleting Para. 2553 from the Book of Discipline.

As Conferences Committee Chair Lonnie Chafin said in recommending passage of the petition, “The season of disaffiliation ends today. … It is time to speak of how we come together for the love of God.”

Debate ensued on both sides of the issue.

Jorgen Thaarup, Denmark, spoke in support of the motion.

“We should never have had a paragraph like this. We should have been much more clear that … splitting the church is a sin.”

After a lunch break, Dixie Brewster of Great Plains spoke against eliminating the pathway for churches to exit.

“We want a way for conservative churches to go peacefully. We will not be disruptive,” Brewster said, noting she does love all people but she just see the scriptures on homosexuality differently than the majority of the denomination.”

Not long after this, Chafin took the stage to recommend passage of a new paragraph, Para. 2554, that will enable the reentry of disaffiliated churches to the UMC.

Chafin recommended the body adopt the committee’s substitution, which swaps the lengthy petition with more simplified language: “With a spirit of grace, we welcome those churches which have disaffiliated or withdrawn to rejoin The United Methodist Church. Where applicable, every annual conferences shall have a policy of reaffiliation for the churches seeking to return to the connection.” The motion was amended by a 386-304 vote to add that each church that reaffiliates must recommit to the trust clause.

Delegates soke for and against the amended motion.

Helen Ryde, Western North Conference lay delegate, spoke for the petition, noting, “I think we need to leave the door open.”

Byron Thomas, clergy delegate from the North Georgia Conference, spoke against the motion, noting he sees “a lack of accountability in this.”

The reaffiliation legislation passed 629-96.


Above, Lonnie Chafin, a delegate from the Northern Illinois Conference and chair of the Conferences legislative committee, speaks during the 2024 United Methodist General Conference in Charlotte, N.C. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

Final Worldwide Regionalization petition passes

Just before the afternoon break, the body passed by 593-139 the final Worldwide Regionalization petition, Petition 5 of 8, adding the creation of the U.S. Regional Committee.

Chafin likened it to a committee for the United States that is parallel to the Standing Committee on Central Conferences.

Several spoke for and against the motion.

Jerry Kulah, delegate from the Liberia Conference, said he believes the pathway is unacceptable and amounts to a platform that strengthens the American UMC against the rest of the UMC.

“All you are doing is breaking our hearts and letting us know you don’t value our views,” Kulah said.

However, Beth Givens, delegate from the Virginia Conference, said she believes regionalization is our best step forward as a global church.

“I believe that we live in so many different contexts of ministry that we need to have the freedom and the courage to be able to follow Christ faithfully in each of those contexts,” Givens said. “Regionalization is a path forward, the most hopeful path forward I have seen in my 54 years as a United Methodist.”

Other petitions that passed

Other petitions that passed are as follows:

Petition 20199, Administrative Services, enabling GCFA to offer administrative services, and to charge reasonable and appropriate fees for such services, to other non-United Methodist churches and religious organizations. The council shall not expend general church funds in the provision of such services (passed 674-42).

Petition 20348 to increase central conference representation on the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women was referred, and then Petition 20346 on COSROW Support for Central Conference Women passed (646-63).

Taking time to save time

While it seemed ironic to some, delegates spent time throughout Wednesday debating and ultimately passing (606-91a “bundling motion” that bundled into one ballot all remaining calendar items that received 20 or fewer votes against in legislative committee except those with constitutional impact, a minority report, those already removed from the consent calendar, or those requested to be brought to the floor but not requested by legislative committee.

“We’re doing great work, but we’re moving a little too slow and we have about 60 petitions left,” explained Thomas Lank of the Greater New Jersey Conference, who proposed the motion. “I think this helps us focus us on the task at hand …. and is faithful stewardship of our time.”

Items excluded from the motion were those that already passed earlier in the day that applied, as well as four others. Those four will be considered at another time during General Conference:

·      Calendar 454, Petition 20173, “Chastity” instead of “Celibacy”

·      Calendar 461, Petition 20357, Clarify Role of the Judicial Council as Related to Judicial and Administrative Appeals

·      Calendar 535, Petition 20730, Revised Social Principles-161 and 162

·      Calendar 554, Petition 20897, Granting Sacramental Authority to Deacons in Their Ministry Setting

Some elections complete

Late in the day, General Conference selected some people to a variety of committees and councils, including an elder from South Carolina: Susan Henry-Crowe to the Judicial COuncil.

The body elected four people to the University Senate, an elected body of professionals in higher education that evaluates United Methodist-related schools.

Delegates elected two CEOs to the body: Bishop Grant Hagiya (president, Claremont School of Theology) and the Rev. Candace Lewis (president and dean of Gammon Theological Seminary at the Interdenominational Theological Center).

They also elected two in the category of “Other Positions Relevant to Academic or Financial Affairs or Church Relationships”: Lisa Garvin (chaplain, Southern Methodist University) and Kim Ingram (director of ministerial services, Western North Carolina Conference).

Next, they elected nine people plus alternates to the Judicial Council. For laity, they elected Harriet Jane Olson (NEJ), Molly Hlekani Mwayera (Africa), Bill Waddell (SCJ) and Andrew Vorbrich (NCJ). The first two will serve an eight-year term, and the second two will serve a four-year term.

For clergy, they elected Angela Brown (WJ), Susan Henry-Crowe (SEJ), Jonathan Ulanday (Philippines), Øyvind Helliesen (Northern Europe and Eurasia) and Luan-Vu Tran (WJ). The first three will serve an eight-year term, and the second two will serve a four-year term.

Six lay alternates were also elected (Erin Hawkins, Jessica Vittorio, Kent Fulton, Thomas Lee, Thomas Starnes and Laurie Day) and six clergy alternates (Tim Bruster, Taylor Walters Denyer, Paul Perez, Beverly Wilkes Null, Mark Grafenread and Kate Croskery-Jones.

Next, the body elected the Secretary-Designate of the General Conference, the Rev. Dr. Aleze M. Fulbright. The election required no ballot, as Fulbright was the only nominee, so Presiding Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey declared her the Secretary-Designate.

Harvey called Fulbright to the stage so General Conference could welcome her.

Nominated by the Council of Bishops, Fulbright is an ordained elder in the UMC who serves as a superintendent in the Central and West districts of the Indiana Annual Conference. Before entering full-time ministry in 2008, she was the assistant controller for the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, Inc.

Finally, General Conference elected the trustees of John Street Church with a simple yes/no vote. The body elected with a “yes” vote (651-44) the following:

·      Alan Stapler, Manhattan

·      Jim Hohenstein, Manhattan

·      Jay Cardwell, Peconic, New York 

·      Rosalie Bonner, Manhattan

·      Jackie Landler, Longmont Island City, New York

·      Ray Rogers, Sea Cliff, New York

·      Andrew Bain, Brooklyn, New York

·      Scott Slobodnyak, Manhattan, New York

·      Sheryl Parkinson, Manhattan, New York

·      Resident Bishop of the New York Annual Conference—ex officio

The day closed with a worshipful time of devotion.


Above, Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey (right) presides over the election of Judicial Council members during the 2024 United Methodist General Conference in Charlotte, N.C. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

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