UMNS Photo by Ronny Perry
United Methodist bishops voted overwhelmingly Nov. 1 in favor of proposals to restructure the denomination and redistribute up to $60 million in church funds.
The vote specifically endorsed a letter, titled “For the Sake of a New World, We See a New Church: A Call to Action,” detailing changes — some requiring action by General Conference, some not.
“We see a new church,” the bishops’ letter says. “It is a church that is clear about its mission and confident about its future, a church that is always reaching out, inviting, alive, agile and resilient.” It asks all United Methodists to “work to do the ‘new thing’ God intends for our church and discover the path God is making for our future.”
The Council of Bishops’ vote came as part of the multiyear Call to Action process, which aims to reverse decades of declining membership and financial giving in the United States and to increase congregational vitality.
With their vote, the bishops endorsed the proposed consolidation of nine of the denomination’s 13 general agencies into a new United Methodist Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry. Legislation submitted to General Conference by the Connectional Table calls for the center to have a 15-member board of directors accountable to a 45-member advisory board called the General Council for Strategy and Oversight. The council would replace the Connectional Table, which coordinates the denomination’s mission, ministries and resources.
The vote came after two days of discussions among the bishops in private conversations, small groups and plenary sessions. Even as many bishops stood up to commend the letter, they also said there were parts they would tweak if they could. “I don’t agree with everything” was a frequent refrain.
However, many bishops insisted The United Methodist Church needs some kind of reform.
Iowa Area Bishop Julius C. Trimble likened the letter to a GPS that can guide drivers toward their destination even if it doesn’t always get them to the exact address.
“We cannot get where we want to go without some form of a GPS, and we certainly aren’t going to get close without leaving the house,” Trimble told his colleagues to murmurs of agreement.
Bishops also acknowledged that General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body, likely would alter the legislation. General Conference will next convene April 24-May 4 in Tampa, Fla.
What the bishops endorsed
At its November 2010 meeting, the council endorsed the Call to Action recommendations and the “adaptive challenge” to redirect resources toward fostering vital congregations. The suggested structural changes the bishops took up this year originated with the Interim Operations Team, a group of eight laity and clergy working with denominational leadership to implement the Call to Action recommendations.