GC Day Nine grants deacons authority to preside at the sacraments, strikes language condemning homosexuality

Above, South Carolina’s the Rev. Karen Jones reacts to passage of legislation that will allow deacons to preside over Holy Communion in the context of their local appointments. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

By Jessica Brodie

CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Day Nine at General Conference saw a number of key happenings, most notably that deacons can now preside at sacraments in their appointments and The United Methodist Church no longer condemns homosexuality.

The second-to-last day of the quadrennial gathering kept a busy pace from start to end, commissioning 16 new missionaries, passing the last of the revised Social Principles, electing key church leaders, and approving a host of legislation for the denomination.

Tomorrow, May 3, is the last day of General Conference and will address the budget and roughly 25 remaining petitions, among other business.

‘In The Going Forward’

Morning worship May 2, preached by Bishop Ruby-Nell Estrella, of the Manila Episcopal Area of the Philippines, drew from Matthew 28:18-20 as she lifted up the day’s theme, “In The Going Forward … Know that I am God.”

The worship service also commissioned 16 missionaries.

That day, the Rev. Chang Min Lee, president of the Korean Association of the United Methodist Church, offered good news for missionaries, announcing that Korean churches will support 140 missionaries through the General Board of Global Ministries of the UMC, including those just commissioned.

Elections finish

General Conference also elected more than 175 people to a variety of commissions and councils, including the Commission on the General Conference, the topic of heavy dialogue earlier in the week regarding youth representation.

Elections began May 1 and concluded May 2, adding a host of fresh faces to the groups that make important decisions for the UMC.

The body elected 25 people to the Commission on the General Conference, including one youth member as mandated by the Judicial Council this week.

Delegates also elected 44 members of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, comprising bishops, clergy and laity from across the globe.

South Carolinians were among the 83 elected to a host of general boards and agencies. Dr. Stephen Love is on the General Council on Finance and Administration. Bishop L. Jonathan Holston is on the General Commission on United Methodist Men. And South Carolina’s Dr. Robin Dease, now bishop of the North Georgia Conference, is on the General Board of Church and Society.


Revised social principles pass

General Conference deleted language condemning homosexuality May 2. Delegates voted 523-161 to support a revision of the Social Principles that struck the phrase “the practice of homosexuality… is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Lengthy debate resulted in one modification that affirmed marriage as a sacred, lifelong covenant that brings two people of faith (adult man and adult woman of consenting age or two adult persons of consenting age) into a union of one another and into deeper relationship with God and the religious community.” The original petition left out the words in parentheses.

It was the final piece in a full-scale overhaul of the denomination’s Social Principles, an effort that began in 2012. The Social Principles are not church law but rather represent the denomination’s public stands on important social issues. They are meant to be a guideline.

With the goal to develop a “more globally relevant, theologically founded and succinct” document, a team of 52 United Methodists from around the world drafted the revision, which also received feedback from thousands of United Methodists worldwide.

The revised Social Principles passed May 2 replace Paragraphs 161 and 162 in the Discipline. Those paragraphs deal with the church’s stances on the “Social Community.” Other parts of the newly adopted Social Principles include the rejection of child marriage, the stance against polygamy, the rejection of gambling, opposition to pornography and support for consent in sexual relationships, as well as statements everything from suicide and divorce to remarriage.

“May this time we have all spent help us all move forward in making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world,” Bishop David Graves prayed after the vote Thursday.


Deacons can now preside at sacraments in their appointments

In what presiding Bishop David Graves called a “historic moment,” General Conference on May 2 passed new legislation granting authority to deacons to preside at the sacraments in their ministry settings.

This means deacons can now offer communion and conduct baptisms where they have been appointed to serve, whether that is a church, outreach ministry or mission.

After the vote’s passage, many celebrated the historic change, which should take effect Jan. 1. Many hugged and wept tears of joy.

The Rev. Karen Jones, a deacon in the South Carolina Conference, is one of the delegates who spoke from the floor in favor of the change, sharing a story of how her also-deacon husband had a spiritually moving experience that crystallized why it’s so important for deacons to have this authorization.

No elders were available, so her husband was granted the authority to give the sacraments at a memory care unit to a woman who at first called the bread “a cookie.”

Yet when the transformed body of Christ touched her tongue, Jones said, “Her eyes lifted as if scales had fallen off, and she said, ‘I know what this is!’”

Jones urged the body to approve the legislation, “So that we may joyfully be obedient to the Holy Spirit in bringing sacraments to a broken world.”


Other legislation

Delegates also considered several other key pieces of legislation Thursday. Some highlights:

  • Passed: Aligning BOM and dCOM Voting Thresholds for Discontinuing Candidates (Certified candidates may be discontinued on their own request, upon severing their relationship with The United Methodist Church, or upon action to discontinue by the district committee on ordained ministry by a three-fourths vote.)

  • Passed: Educational Requirements for Voting Privileges (Educational requirements inserted here ensure that those voting for clergy delegates have completed the denominational-standard expectations for theological education; this is a constitutional amendment and requires a two-thirds vote denomination-wide.)

  • Passed: Maternal Health: The Church’s Role (It includes support for paid parental leave, discussion of maternal mortality, access to contraception and accessible and affordable healthcare.

  • Failed: Equitable voting rights for deaconesses and home missioners (Had it passed, this would have enabled retired deaconesses and home missioners to retain their annual conference vote, just as clergy do.)

Who are the delegates representing South Carolina?

What are the 14 legislative committees (and who from S.C. is on them?)

Read the Advocate's overview article on GC

More General Conference information

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