Day Three of General Conference centers on regionalization, laity, more

Above: Bishop David Wilson, the first Native American bishop in the UMC and the first Indigenous person to preside over General Conference.

By Jessica Brodie

CHARLOTTE—General Conference gave regionalization the definitive go-ahead Thursday as Day Three’s legislative plenary session drew to a close.

Eight petitions are part of the regionalization plan, and by lunchtime April 25, the body had passed five out of eight total.

That capped a morning also filled with powerful preaching, a hope-filled Laity Address, a positive report on diversity in legislative leadership and approval for four Eurasian conferences who want to leave the UMC and form an autonomous Methodist church.

The rest of the day was spent in legislatve committees as each addressed hundreds of petitions in their areas.

Five of eight regionalization petitions pass

Regionalization is a package of legislation that would restructure The United Methodist Church so that the different geographic regions in the denomination—the United States as well as the Africa, Europe and the Philippines—would all be able to adapt the Book of Discipline according to their own context.

The regionalization petitions were submitted by The Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters and would create Regional Conferences around the world. In regions with a Central Conference, the Regional Conference will replace the Central Conference. In places without a Central Conference, a Regional Conference will be established. These petitions also would establish the rights, duties, power and privileges of the Regional Conferences. These petitions give Regional Conferences legislative powers so that they can be nimbler and increase their missional impact in their region. 

In addition to the standing committee, the Connectional Table and members of the Christmas Covenant (a group of central conference United Methodists) supported the regionalization legislation.

The first four petitions were included in two consent calendars that passed overwhelmingly (646-73 for the first and 618-99 for the second) earlier Thursday morning. (Consent calendar items are for legislation passed overwhelmingly in committee that only requires a majority and does not have financial implications.)

Then roughly two hours later, after lengthy debate, delegates passed what Bishop Harald Rückert called the foundational item—Worldwide Regionalization Petition 21039, to amend the constitution to create regional conferences on a worldwide basis. That petition passed 586-164 (78 percent of the vote).

This does not mean the constitution has been now changed but rather that it now has the green light to head to annual conferences around the world for their vote on the petition. To be ratified, the amendment will need at least a two-thirds total vote of annual conference lay and clergy voters. 

Read the full story here.  

‘You are not to blame’

The morning started with an empowering message from Bishop LaTrelle Easterling that honored Thursdays in Black, an initiative of the World Council of Churches that encourages wearing black clothing on this one day of the week to call attention to rape and violence against women.

Easterling, herself a domestic violence survivor, shared how the church can often silence victims, making it seem like they are to blame. In her case, the person who urged her to be silent was trying to protect her from being considered “weak,” but even though it was well meaning, it’s not how the church should respond.

“We live in a society that blames the victim,” Easterling preached, noting we often ask questions that put the victim on defense: Why did you stay? Why didn’t you just leave? What were you wearing? Why were you walking alone?

“Society still blames those who were violated, abused or raped,” Easterling said. But, she said, speaking to all victims, “You are not to blame.”

She explained that Thursdays in Black celebrates all people who have experienced what she called “heinous acts of abuse and violence.”

And to the church, she offered strong wisdom: “See us! Don’t ignore us; don’t look past us. Stop making us invisible. Speak our names.

“It’s not enough to bandage wounds. We need to speak to the abuse itself.”

Read more here.


Above: Bishop LaTrelle Easterling

Moving on

Next, presiding Bishop David Wilson opened the plenary. Wilson is the first Native American bishop in the UMC and became the first Indigenous person to preside over General Conference.

After approval of the day’s agenda, Wilson welcomed the Rev. Giovanni Arroyo of the General Commission on Religion and Race and Dawn Wiggins Hare of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women to provide the monitoring report, which they said showed diversity in legislative committee leadership.

Leaders include 17 White females, 15 Black males, 11 White males, 10 Black females, four Asian females, four Multiracial females, three Asian males, two Hispanic/Latino males, two Hispanic/Latino females, one Pacific Islander female and one White nonbinary person.

Arroyo called the results “pretty amazing.”

Then, Wilson presided over presentation of the two consent calendars up for vote. One, called the “Disciplinary consent calendar” because it contains items pertaining to the Discipline, passed by an almost 90 percent margin. The second, a non-Disciplinary consent calendar, passed by an 86 percent margin.  

As Susan Brumbaugh, General Conference’s coordinator of the calendar, told the crowd gathered, “If anyone comes up to you and says, ‘We didn’t do anything at General Conference,’ we just did.”

In addition to four of the eight regionalization petitions, the consent calendar also passed petitions regionalizing the definition of marriage and removing the Traditional Plan language.

A consent calendar groups routine meeting discussion points into a single agenda item. In so doing, the grouped items can be approved in one action, rather than through the filing of multiple motions.

Laity address

Next, LaToya Redd Thompson, president of the Association of Annual Conference Lay Leaders, was joined by other members of the AACLL in offering a hope-filled Laity Address that lifted up the spirit, determined love that buoys up the laity in the UMC.

Micheal Pope presented three quadrennial questions for lay leadership for the quadrennium: How do we start together by grace; how are we remaining together by grace; and how do we go forward together by grace?

They also showed an uplifting video profile on one laity, a photojournalist named Jack Corn who calls himself “a disciple in the marketplace” and strives to serve as an active witness for Christ in his work and life.

“There is something quite resilient about the people called Methodists,” Thompson shared.

She added, “May we dream a dream where we love each other in a fearless and unconditional way. May we love God without bounds.”

Read more here.

La Toya

Above: LaToya Redd Thompson

Three Rules Committee items

After this, the Rules Committee took the stage, presenting their recommendations on three items that had been referred to them Tuesday for consideration. Two of the three were voted down by the conference, one of them (requesting that the digital speaker queue be projected so the body can see who is seeking the floor) after much debate.

The third—on having the Commission on the General Conference consider inviting an Indigenous person to offer a proper acknowledgment of land ownership—was approved.

Final matters before lunch

Just before lunch, delegates passed two other Standing Committee petitions that were not on the consent calendar, though both featured lengthy debate with speeches for and against.

In addition to the Worldwide Regionalization constitutional amendment petition detailed above,

Delegates were asked to consider Petition 21103, wherein four annual conferences in Eurasia asked to leave the connection and form an autonomous Methodist church named “The Christian Methodist Church in Eurasia.” Those conferences are the Central Russia, Eastern Russia and Central Asia, Northwest Russia and Belarus, and Southern Russia Provisional conferences.

The body ultimately and overwhelmingly voted yes—672-67—to let the Eurasia churches leave the UMC.

Read more here.

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

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