Delegates and communicators from across the United Methodist connection gathered in Nashville for the 2020 pre-General Conference briefing. Representatives from the denomimnation’s boards and agencies resourced the nearly 500 domestic and international church representatives.
The event began with worship on Thursday morning, January 23. General Conference worship leader, Raymond Trapp gathered those present into a community striving to know God, which is the Psalm 46 theme of the quadrennial gathering. Trapp is the choral director/organist of Vandeveer Park UMC, East Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York,
Minnesota-Dakotas Bishop Bruce Ough, was the preacher for the initial service. Reflecting on the Exodus journey, Ough said, “We see ourselves in the questions of the people who went before.” Echoing the cry of the wilderness people, “Is the Lord among us, or not,” he asked where God is when the forces of nature are overrun, when the economy is rigged for the affluent at the expense of the poor, when there are many homeless and hungry when benefits are reduced/eliminated to the advantage of those who have in excess, when people are being excluded, and when congregations are being destroyed.
“Pay attention to the questions in your souls and hearts, “Ough suggested. “Will we say ‘Yes!’ to God's invitation to go, to do justice, to be strong and courageous” when we journey to Minneapolis for the General Conference, he wondered.
In response to asking, “Is the Lord among us, or not,” the Bishop had a resounding affirmation — “Yes!” Yes...because we are seeking the future church...because we will work to end racism...because we will include all those who have been left out. “The Good News is always yes,” Ough said, because “God is still able.”
Proposed Denominational Structure Plans
After a welcoming presentation by the Minnesota arrangements committee for the 2020 General Conference and conversation about the prayer ministries before and during the ten-day gathering in May, the remainder of the morning session was devoted to legislation related to the various proposals for the structure of The United Methodist Church.
- The Indianapolis Plan, focusing on “new dimensions of Methodism” that offered potentially three new denominational entities.
- UM Forward, offering “new worldwide expressions” intended to acknowledge and eliminate the harm inflicted to LGBTQIA+ persons and persons of color, persons with disabilities, and poor people. Upon adjournment of the 2020 General Conference, four new global Methodist denominations would be formed.
- UMCNext, advocating for a “next generation UMC” that will lead to a continued, reformed, global UMC. Calling for the repeal of the Traditional Plan, the UMC next proposal asks, “How do we say, ‘Yes,’ to the people of God so that they can say, ‘Yes’ to Jesus Christ?”
Consideration was given to additional proposals during the afternoon session.
Central Conference Reactions
- Protocol of Grace and Reconciliation Through Separation, which presents the possibility to “bless, send, and multiply for the sake of Jesus.” Under the Protocol, the Boards and Agencies will remain intact. Parts of the church impacted by racism will be protected and supported with a $39 million fund, over 8 years. Allocations for post-separation denominations include $25 million for a traditionalist denomination, over four years, and $2 million for other new denominations. There will also be a moratorium on processing complaints and closing churches in the interim.
- U. S. Regional Conference, a proposal by the Connectional Table, will “ease the burden of U.S. Legislation on the General Conference and give U.S. churches parity with those in central conferences.”
Central Conference perspectives from Europe, Africa, and the Philippines included a desire to “stay together by giving each other freedom to adapt to our different missional contexts” and affirming “the annual conference [is to] be the place where the Methodists determine their future affiliation.” In addition, “Central conference perspectives should not be an afterthought. “Opposition [to] dissolution and [a desire to] preserve the unity of The United Methodist Church” was expressed strongly. Their covenant of hope called for the strengthening of “our core mission of evangelism, discipleship, and social witness for the transformation of the world.”
Other afternoon conversations included:
A Bishop’s Perspective
- Legal, financial, pension, and church structure matters
- The UMC budget and budget allocation process
- The 2021-2024 budget is 18.3% ($110,265,966) lower than 2017-2020
To conclude the first day of the 2020 pre-General Conference briefing Bishop Ken Carter (Florida area), president of the Council of Bishops, shared “A Bishop’s Perspective,” raising seven key questions and led the group in an extended time of prayer “reminding ourselves of who we are.”
- How much separation and space do we need, and how will we allow that for each other?
- How much adaptation and contextualization can we craft into our Missional strategy and Book of Discipline?
- How can we design a sustainable church?
- How can we see the witness of the next generations in our churches and hear the voices of those who are not yet in our churches, who have not yet come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?
- How can we see each other with “a heart of peace?”
- “A ‘heart of peace’ is refusing to dehumanize each other, refusing to do harm to each other, refusing to stereotype each other or exaggerate our differences.”
- How can we remember who we are?