UMC passes regionalization petitions to restructure church

Above, Bishop Tracy Smith Malone surveys the results of a delegate vote in favor of a worldwide regionalization plan as she presides over a legislative session of the 2024 United Methodist General Conference in Charlotte, N.C., on April 25, 2024. The proposal needed a two-third majority vote to pass. Photo by Paul Jeffrey/UM News.

Next step is ratification by annual conferences

By Jessica Brodie

CHARLOTTE, N.C.—One of the biggest decisions at this year’s General Conference will have worldwide impact—if two-thirds of annual conferences agree.

Delegates passed all eight “worldwide regionalization” petitions over several days at General Conference.

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 they can 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) April 25. (Consent calendar items combine in bulk legislation that 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. 

By Day Eight, the body had passed by 593-139 the final Worldwide Regionalization petition, adding the creation of the U.S. Regional Committee. 

Lonnie Chafin, a delegate from the Northern Illinois Conference and chair of the Conference’s legislative committee, 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.”

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