Delegates gather for UMC General Conference

By Jessica Brodie

CHARLOTTE—It’s here. After multiple postponements because of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent international travel issues, the 2020 United Methodist Church General Conference is gearing up to start just as the Advocate releases this edition.

Held April 23-May 3 at the Charlotte Convention Center, the 2024 event is officially called the postponed 2020 General Conference.

Eight hundred sixty-two delegates representing conferences around the world—including 16 delegates from South Carolina—plus alternates will spend 10 days setting policy and direction for the denominational church, as well as handling other important business.

In addition to the delegates, the UMC’s 59 bishops will be present and preside at General Conference, though they do not have a vote. Hundreds of other people, many of them volunteers, will serve in a variety of roles, such as greeters, registration officials, marshals, pages, translators, guides, drivers, musicians, technicians, reporters and emergency responders.

In all, the gathering is expected to draw as many as 7,500 people.

Meeting every four years, General Conference is the only entity that speaks for the denomination. The United Methodist Book of Discipline, updated every four years, incorporates changes made by General Conference.

The postponed 2020 General Conference theme is “… and know that I am God,” from Psalm 46:10.

Who are South Carolina’s delegates?

South Carolina’s delegates were elected at Annual Conference in June 2019. Some of those originally elected are no longer able to serve; for instance, one—Dr. Robin Dease—is now a UMC bishop serving in the North Georgia Annual Conference. Others have left the denomination.

The updated list of South Carolina’s General Conference delegates is as follows:

For clergy, the Revs. Ken Nelson, Keith Hunter, Susan Leonard, Emily Sutton, Will Malambri, Tiffany Knowlin Boykin, Karen Jones and Tim Rogers (alternates the Revs. Cathy Mitchell and Fran Elrod).

For laity, Jackie Jenkins, James Salley, Michael Cheatham, Herman Lightsey, Chris Lynch, David Braddon, Betty Void and David Salter (alternates Valerie Brooks-Madden and Marlene Spencer).

Overall, voting delegates are coming from the United States (55.9 percent), Africa (32 percent), the Philippines (6 percent), Europe (4.6 percent) and concordat churches that have close ties to the UMC (1.5 percent), including The Methodist Church of Great Britain, Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas, The Methodist Church of Mexico and The Methodist Church of Puerto Rico.

The percentage of delegates from central conferences (outside the United States) has grown since the start of the millennium, jumping from 16 percent in 2000 to 44 percent in 2020 and increasing costs significantly as a result.

What will happen at General Conference?

The first week, Tuesday, April 23, through Saturday, April 27, is largely committee work. Every delegate is assigned to one of the 14 General Conference Legislative Committees, from financial administration and ordained ministry to discipleship.

The committees review, sort and refine legislative proposals. Each day of General Conference will begin with worship and adjourn at 6:30 p.m. EDT, except for April 27, the last day of legislative committee work, which adjourns at 9:30 p.m. Sunday, April 28, is a day off for Sabbath rest.

All legislative committees are asked to set aside time for delegates to discuss regionalization and how it will affect the work of their committee. Regionalization is one of the key topics up for consideration at General Conference aimed at shaping the future of the UMC.

That discussion is slated to occur as the first order of business when legislative committees meet on April 25.

The first-week schedule also includes the episcopal address on April 24, delivered by South Carolina Resident Bishop L. Jonathan Holston; the Young People’s Address on April 24; and the Laity Address on April 25.

General Conference will open at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23, with a worship celebration that will include Holy Communion. The preacher will be Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton of the New York Episcopal Area, outgoing president of the Council of Bishops.

The second week is devoted to voting on the legislation in plenary sessions.

An evening devotion is slated to end most days of business.

What are South Carolina delegates’ committee assignments?

South Carolina has 16 delegates, which means there will be one South Carolinian on every committee, and two committees will have two South Carolina delegates. Delegates select their desired committee based on the order of their election.

Committee assignments are as follows:

• Church and Society 1: Rev. Tim Rogers

• Church and Society 2: Jackie Jenkins

• Church and Society 3: Rev. Keith Hunter

• Conferences: Michael Cheatham

• Discipleship: David Salter

• Faith and Order: Rev. Susan Leonard

• Financial Administration: James Salley

• General Administration: David Braddon

• Global Ministries: Rev. Emily Sutton

• Higher Education/Superintendency: Herman Lightsey

• Independent Commissions: Rev. Tiffany Knowlin Boykin

• Judicial Administration: Rev. Will Malambri

• Local Church: Chris Lynch and Rev. Karen Jones

• Ordained Ministry: Rev. Ken Nelson and Betty Void

See article here for a breakdown of each committee and what sort of petitions they handle.

What do the legislative committees do?

The primary sources of legislation are petitions and proposals from churches, annual conferences, agencies and organizations. Petitions must be submitted 230 days before the opening of the conference. Usually about 1,000 petitions are submitted for consideration at a regularly scheduled General Conference.

This year, there are 1,099 total valid petitions going before General Conference.

Petitions are assigned to one of the 14 legislative committees or to the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters.

All proposed legislation is printed in the Advance Daily Christian Advocate, which can be found at

The work of the legislative committees is open to observers, including media, though space may be limited.

There are three categories of petitions—those that involve changes to the Book of Discipline, changes to the Book of Resolutions and non-disciplinary, meaning they ask General Conference to take a certain action, such as forming a study group or task force.  

In the committees, legislation is debated, refined and recommended whether to go to the full General Conference plenary for a vote. Some petitions come from multiple committees that need to be considered together.

All valid petitions are required to receive a vote in legislative committee. Any petition approved by a legislative committee is required to receive a vote in plenary.

Read a full breakdown here.  

A key topic: Regionalization

Regionalization is a key topic to be addressed at General Conference. Approved in an Aug. 19 meeting by the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, worldwide regionalism legislation aims to provide equity throughout the regions of the UMC with the intention of decentralizing the influence of the United States on General Conference.

Emphasizing the United Methodist theology of connectionalism, it provides for contextualized ministry and mission throughout the church. Eight petitions submitted to General Conference 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. 

It also includes the creation of the United States Regional Conference, comprising the five jurisdictions. This plan includes the creation of a committee of the General Conference for U.S. regional matters, as well as the Interim Committee on Organization to organize and plan for the establishment and functioning of a new United States Regional Conference. Both the legislative committee and the organizing committee will dissolve at the first Regional Conference of the United States.

This legislation was also supported for submission by the Connectional Table at its July 13 meeting.

What are the other big issues?

Beyond regionalization, General Conference is expected to address these other major topics among the 1,099 petitions submitted:

• Reduced General Conference Budget: The proposed 2025-2028 budget of $346.7 million is the biggest budget drop in the UMC’s history and is a 43 percent reduction from the $604 million budget approved in 2016. The proposal requires significant cuts to all funds and comes because of a reduction in church net expenditures stemming from disaffiliations as well as churches that closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

• Full revision to UMC Social Principles: Submitted by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, this is the first overhaul to the Social Principles in 50 years and arose out of legislation initiated in 2012 and listening sessions in Africa, Europe, the Philippines and the United States. More than 4,000 United Methodists reviewed and commented on the first Social Principles draft, and the revision now goes before General Conference.

• Additional bishops in Africa: While the number of bishops in the United States is expected to reduce (from 46 to 32), Africa might see an increase in the number of its bishops.

• Full communion with Episcopal Church: The Council of Bishops is proposing a full-communion agreement between United Methodists and Episcopalians, who share a history and have ties to John Wesley’s Church of England. Full communion means each would recognize the other as a partner in the Christian faith, recognizes the validity of each other’s baptism and Eucharist, and commits to work together in ministry. They can also share clergy.

• Disaffiliations and reaffiliations: More than a quarter of the UMCs in the United States have left the denomination in the last four years. A number of petitions will deal with separating the denomination along theological lines; possibly extending Para. 2553, which allowed churches to leave with property “for reasons of conscience” related to homosexuality if they met certain obligations; and some relating to paths for reaffiliations.

• Responses to sexual misconduct: The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women is introducing a resolution calling for an “Apology from General Conference to the Victims/Survivors of Sexual Misconduct in The United Methodist Church.” COSROW noted many victims and survivors do not receive an apology from any person with authority in the denomination, yet an apology is often the first step toward healing.

• Homosexual weddings and clergy: Currently the Book of Discipline prohibits United Methodist clergy from officiating at same-sex marriage or union ceremonies, and prohibits bishops from licensing, commissioning, ordaining, appointing, or consecrating as a bishop anyone who is a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.” Some petitions will address these prohibitions.

How can I find out what’s going on at General Conference?

The Advocate will be offering full coverage of General Conference, both in its June edition (which comes out early), at, and on social media (Facebook and X @advocatesc and Instagram @advocatesc_news).

Also, follow the proceedings on the General Conference website at or on Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) at #UMCGC.

Also, much will be livestreamed: all plenary sessions; worship services; the Episcopal, Laity and Young People’s addresses; and other special events.

Information supplemented by a variety of UMC resources, including the helpful “Guide to Postponed 2020 General Conference,” the “GC2020 Advance Daily Christian Advocate” and the Delegation Orientation videos (all available for download from, as well as articles from United Methodist News.

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