May 7, 2024- General Conference

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The General Conference of the United Methodist Church met from April 23 to May 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina. As you may have seen on national news (or even heard in Saturday’s episode of Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!), the body voted to remove from the Book of Discipline language discriminatory and harmful toward LGBTQIA+ people. This includes prohibitions against gay and lesbian clergy, officiating same-sex weddings and commitment ceremonies, and funding LGBTQIA+ organizations and initiatives. Last, but not least, the 52-year-old “incompatibility clause” was removed, to the rejoicing of many long-time advocates for justice and inclusion.

This is one of several historic changes to come out of the General Conference. I am still digesting them, I and appreciate resources like the letter from Bishop Johnson and highlights from the New England Conference. As I shared on Sunday, one major change is the reduction of bishops in the US (note: 25% of US churches have exited the denomination since the last called General Conference in 2019). There will also be a reduction in the apportionment (or mission share) giving rate (%) requested of local churches.

Several resolutions set on righting injustices were approved, including underscoring the denomination’s commitment to eradicating racism, an apology for the role of Methodists in the overthrow of the kingdom of Hawaii in 1893, and petitions to address climate change, domestic violence, caring for Native people, farm workers’ rights, and opposition to racial profiling. 

A move toward regionalization also passed the General Conference, and will now go to local Annual Conferences for ratification. In short, this will make for a less US-centric denomination and General Conference gathering, allowing regions of the church to have equal opportunity to adapt the Book of Discipline and pass legislation that works best for their contexts. A similar effort was made in 2008, but was not ratified in the annual conferences that followed. There is reason to believe the outcome will be different this time; still, prayers are needed as we take a step that might hold the church together amidst its differences.

We know that the church (and the world) are changing fast these days. While the disaffiliation window has closed, UM congregations (and congregations everywhere) are facing 21st-century challenges and questions that aren’t going away anytime soon. How do we serve aging members while reaching out to people across the lifecycle? How do we balance online ministry with embodied realities of community and worship? How do we reflect the diverse kingdom of God when our faith communities and neighborhoods are often more homogeneous than they ought to be? How do we protect and restore the planet which is our life and breath? 

While this was surely an historic gathering, with long-sought goals joyfully achieved, in the end, delegates and onlookers have returned home with a message we’ve heard before: God isn’t finished with us yet. Or, in the words of Mark Miller and Carl Daw, God Has Work for Us to Do. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to enjoy this choral anthem that spells out the mission of the church (universal) in all times and places. May it inspire and enliven us to be the church God is calling us to be amidst change, challenge, and hope for the future.

Pastor Jen