Graphic Courtesy of MFSA
Call to Action StructureCall to Action Structure
TAMPA – The radical restructure plan for The United Methodist Church prepared by the Connectional Table, often confused with the Council of Bishops' effort known as the Call to Action, isn't as much of a "done deal" as has been supposed, judging by tough questions and resistance that emerged during the Jan. 19-21 Pre-General Conference Briefing.
The briefing for 2012 General Conference delegates and church communicators also uncovered less well-publicized efforts taking place parallel to the Connectional Table and Call to Action that could provide less extreme reorganization, yet still achieve cost savings and operational efficiency to offset declines in the denomination's human and financial resources.
Among the eye-openers at the Pre-General Conference Briefing:
- Many delegates complained that the answers they received from Call to Action, Vital Congregations and restructure proponents lacked specific details about any adverse effects the proposal could have on the denomination. "It sounds too much like, 'Just trust us, we know what we're doing,'" complained a delegate who asked not to be named.
- Highly placed sources confided to UM Insight that the Connectional Table consulted none of the denomination's top staff executives during the process of creating the restructure legislation. There were also reports among delegates that agency executives have been pressured by proponents to get behind the plan rather than offer alternatives or question its components.
- At the same time that the Connectional Table restructure was being created and promoted, 10 of the 11 current United Methodist boards and agencies adopted plans to cut the number of their directors by half, trimming some 266 positions from the 596 directors currently selected among U.S. delegates. Delegates and communicators alike were surprised to learn the extent of these parallel efforts.
- United Methodists outside the United States see Call to Action and the Connectional Table restructure as ways for the American branch of the denomination to hang on to political power rather than share it with church leaders across Africa, Europe and the Philippines, according to the Rev. Forbes Matonga, vice dean of Africa University in Zimbabwe who serves on the Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church
- Other representatives of the worldwide church study group noted during their presentation that restructuring the denomination for a more equitable power structure had been their assignment from the 2008 General Conference. As a result of the Connectional Table usurping the restructure task halfway through the 2009-2012 timetable, commission members said that they elected not to submit any reorganization recommendations to the 2012 General Conference.
Nine Agencies into One Center
Although Call to Action focuses on church growth through its Vital Congregations program (which has already been implemented by the Council of Bishops), the Connectional Table structure component involves collapsing nine of the current 11 United Methodist boards and agencies into a single "Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry" under the direction of a 15-member board. This center would have four offices:
- Shared Services, which would combine the General Council on Finance and Administration with the General Commission on Archives and History;
- Justice & Reconciliation, which would combine the General Board of Church and Society with the denomination's two "watchdog" commissions, Status and Role of Women and Religion and Race;
- Leadership Excellence, which would encompass solely the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry;
- Congregational Vitality, which would take in the General Board of Discipleship.
Agencies that would remain separate from the Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry include the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, which administers insurance and retirement funds for clergy and some lay church employees; United Methodist Publishing House; and United Methodist Men and United Methodist Women, which would become self-funding agencies.
Delegates' questions regarding the personnel, property and budgetary impacts of the proposed changes received only indistinct answers.
"It's something we'd have to 'live into,'" said Jay Brim, lay leader of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference and legislative coordinator for the Connectional Table. "We're open to conversation on how to make it better."
In contrast to the Call to Action and Connectional Table reports, the Rev. Thomas Frank, noted author and professor of religion at Wake Forest University, posed critical questions of the plan that he said would help delegates determine its value to the denomination.
Alternative Aims for More Equal Power
Western Pennsylvania Conference delegate Tracy Merrick represented the Methodist Federation for Social Action, which has proposed alternatives to the Connectional Table plan.
Merrick said MFSA has issues with not only Call to Action and the Connectional Table restructure but also with the Ministry Study and the Worldwide Church report around three themes: restructure, worldwide church and clergy evaluation. The MFSA alternative bases its proposal on these three principles, he said.
In particular, Merrick said that MFSA's plan, which has also garnered support from the church's racial-ethnic caucuses, would:
- Broaden the concept of disciple-making outlined in Paragraph 122 of the Book of Discipline, creating metrics consistent with the paragraph's provisions;
- Structure the denomination to ensure greater levels of diversity in authority, including 40 percent of directors being people of color and 20 percent young adults and youths, with additional Central Conference participation.
Merrick pointed out that MFSA's plan would create larger decision-making bodies than what the Connectional Table proposes in order to assure holy conferencing around policies and programs that would affect the entire denomination.
"Currently 36 percent of United Methodists are from outside the United States, yet the Connectional Table proposes they have only 11 percent representation on the General Council on Strategy and Oversight," Merrick said. "Under [the Connectional Table restructure], the Southeastern Jurisdiction in the United States would have more seats on that council than all of the Central Conferences combined."
Event sponsor, United Methodist Communications, videotaped all presentations at the Pre-General Conference Briefing. Videos will be available soon on the 2012 General Conference website hosted by UMCom.
Editor's note: In response to a critique from Bishop John Hopkins, chair of the Connectional Table, this article has been updated as of Feb. 14, 2012. The original article conflated the bishops' initiative of Call to Action with the Connectional Table restructure proposal, as had many others across the church. The initiatives are separate but related.