After hearing from United Methodists around the world, a special church committee is seeking additional input on a concept for an organizational structure of the denomination.
The concepts offered by the Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of the United Methodist Church narrow the role of the General Conference and begin shaping a new form of organization for what are now jurisdictional conferences in the United States and Central Conferences throughout the rest of the world.
The conceptual elements developed by the committee are available at www.worldwideumc.org. Individual and organizational responses are welcome through the web site, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline for filing a response to the proposals is June 15, 2011.
These structural concepts are expected to be part of a full report the committee is scheduled to release in July to the 2012 General Conference.
“The committee seeks to stimulate discussion on how we can better live into being a worldwide denomination,” said the committee’s chair, Bishop Scott J. Jones of Wichita, Kan. “That means looking at new structure that is equitable, workable and cost-effective.”
The committee does not expect action on structural changes in 2012, but to set in place a process leading to consideration of a new structure at the 2016 General Conference.
In the organizational concept developed by the committee, the General Conference would focus solely on elements of the church that are truly worldwide, and leave regional issues to new bodies called Continental Conferences. There would be four continental conferences: North America, including the five U.S. jurisdictional conferences; Europe/Eurasia; Asia; and Africa would incorporate the existing Central Conferences in each region.
“We are a world-wide denomination united by doctrine, discipline and mission through the vehicle of connectionalism,” the committee declared.
“Our Book of Discipline expresses that unity. While each continental conference may make changes and adaptations to our Discipline to more fruitfully accomplish our mission in their contexts, some portions of our Discipline are not subject to adaptation… except by the General Conference,” the committee said.
In this new conceptual structure, each Continental Conference would be allowed to create its own Book of Discipline or similar document outlining the rules and procedures it believes are necessary for its region of the world.
Under this new structure the General Conference would continue to meet every four years, but would focus solely on items that pertain to the worldwide nature of the denomination. While The United Methodist Church has clearly become more worldwide in recent years, General Conference has focused the bulk of its time on U.S.-focused issues.
The committee noted that it agreed earlier in 2010 to keep doctrinal and ministerial qualifications under the umbrella of the worldwide church and in the Discipline that applies to the entire church. That means that issues related to homosexuality would remain the province of the General Conference.
Each Continental Conference would have the option to meet at the site of the General Conference prior to its opening, or to meet at it own sites at its own expense. Delegates to the Continental Conferences would also be delegates to the General Conference. Delegates would be elected by each of the annual conferences around the world.