Four short months from now, the 2012 General Conference will be voting on legislation that will be the first step in moving the denomination toward a structure that realigns money and organizes the functions of the general agencies to better support annual conferences and local churches as they fulfill the goal of creating vital congregations. As the Council of Bishops has shared in an open letter, this legislation will lead us to a new church -- "one that is renewed and clear about its mission. A new church that is always reaching out, inviting, alive, agile, and resilient. We seek a church that is hope-filled, passionate, nimble, called of God, and courageous. This new church takes risks to reach new people for Jesus Christ, and it searches continuously for creative ways to help each person grow in grace, love, and holiness."
In order to bring us closer to the vision of this new church, here is a short list of what will be before delegates:
- Give Annual Conferences freedom to organize their structures for greater fruitfulness.
- Permit the mid-quadrennium reallocation of money from the general church funds for a sum up to $60 million for purposes related to the challenge of creating and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations.
- Provide for the Council of Bishops to elect a non-residential bishop as President of the Council to help reform the Council and focus its energies on the core challenges.
- Create a United Methodist Church Center for Connectional Mission & Ministry under one board of directors to combine the functions of the Connectional Table and nine general agencies. They will be organized into offices of shared services and offices of congregational vitality, leadership excellence, missional engagement, and justice and reconciliation. This will help us align resources for greater effectiveness and efficiency.
- Move the functions of GCCUIC to an office of the Council of Bishops, clarifying what have been overlapping responsibilities and improving our ecumenical efforts.
- Set aside United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men as self-funding official United Methodist membership-based organizations.
- Provide a support system for collecting consistent information for all annual conferences about their financial practices and recommend to resident bishops and others strategies for reducing costs and increasing effectiveness.
While we are taking steps to reach the vision of the new United Methodist Church, we see signs of hope already in the radical hospitality greeting people in need; in the work of our youth and children engaging in communities to spread the gospel through their actions; in our missionaries who have left their families to serve God's family around the world. I also see glimpses of this new church in the UMC connection that gives us the ability to reach far beyond what a single church can do alone, particularly in the areas of social justice, evangelism and discipleship.
I want to take the opportunity to help clarify the future process should the General Conference vote to support the proposed changes by the Connectional Table and the Council of Bishops. A yes vote would set several things in motion.
First, the existing Connectional Table will be called together immediately following General Conference to name 15 persons to the governing board of the newly created Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry. Let me be clear, this is not a "super board" to govern all things United Methodist. In fact, this board is solely responsible for overseeing that the functions of the current general agencies are aligned and carried out in a way that supports the mission to create vital congregations. The new Center is mandated to hold its first meeting on or before July 31, 2012.
Once these members are named, the Connectional Table will be replaced by a new governing body, the General Council for Strategy and Oversight, which will be composed of 45 people who represent the diversity and inclusiveness of The United Methodist Church and will have oversight of the Center. Twenty-eight members will be elected during Jurisdictional and Central Conference meetings. The process will remain the same as it was for membership on the Connectional Table: 21 members from the Jurisdictions, with the number from each determined by the secretary of the General Conference, and one member each from the seven Central Conferences. Five bishops will be appointed by the Council of Bishops, including one bishop to serve as chair of the Council. Within 90 days of General Conference, the five Racial Ethnic Caucuses will each select one representative. The Advisory Committee on Ministries with Young People will elect three persons from its 54-member committee to also serve. This body will be comprised of members representing UM Youth, UM Young Adults, UM Workers with Young People, and Central Conference and Racial Ethnic Caucus representatives.
The remaining members of the General Council for Strategy and Oversight are the chief executives of the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits, United Methodist Publishing House, United Methodist Men and United Methodist Women.
Also, within 90 days of the close of General Conference, the governing boards of the nine general agencies named in the legislation must meet to transfer responsibility and property to the Center. This includes: the General Council on Finance and Administration, the General Board of Global Ministries, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the General Board of Church and Society, the General Board of Discipleship, the Commission on Archives and History, the General Commission on Communications, the General Commission on Religion and Race, and the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.
Once the governing boards are in place, the work of evaluating and aligning resources begins. The Center will consider how to redirect up to $60 million of World Service Funds to support development of young people's lay leadership; Central Conference theological education; the recruiting and training of United Methodist ministerial students under the age of 35; and creating vital congregations.
The 15-member board will also be working to align the functions of the general agencies into five areas: Offices of Shared Services; Offices of Congregational Development; Offices of Leadership Excellence; Offices of Missional Engagement; and Offices of Justice and Reconciliation. These five offices would report to an Executive General Secretary who would be appointed within the first 24 months.
Working for Results
In my conversations across the Church I have heard a wide variety of responses to this proposed plan to realign the agencies. "Isn't this sudden, even rushed?" asked a young adult church leader. The reality is that the Church has been at this realignment for years. We have been studying and evaluating different aspects of the church for the past three decades.
We can't deny the proof that change is needed. We have much to gain for making this transition now and empowering the annual conferences and local churches to create vital congregations through greater resources and coordinated efforts at all levels of the church.
As the research in the Call To Action Report tells us, "Part of John Wesley's genius in founding and leading the Methodist movement was his ability to focus on what worked. In his Explanatory Notes on the New Testament for 1 Corinthians 14:5, he made usefulness a primary virtue: 'By this alone are we to estimate all our gifts and talents.'" We know the functions that our boards and agencies provide are necessary for the task of creating vital congregations; however we have outgrown the structure itself. We have the opportunity now to focus on greater fruitfulness and to better evaluate what we need moving forward.
All of the legislation coming from the Connectional Table regarding agency realignment is available online. [Editor's note: This legislation is available on UM Insight by clicking here].
A New Church
Even though General Conference legislation is important, we know that it is only one part of the bigger vision and the process to truly becoming a new church. As the Hymn number 87 in The United Methodist Hymnal asks us, "What Gift Can We Bring?"
I hope that we would bring our faith and willingness to be a part of God's new creation. I hope that we "give thanks for the past, for those who had vision, who planted and watered so dreams could come true. Give thanks for the now, for study, for worship, for mission that bids us turn prayer into deed."
Our resurrection faith calls us to a new future, a new church. May we turn our prayers into deeds!