United Methodist Church Improves Structure for Dealing with Units Outside the United States
by Andrew J. Schleicher
The United Methodist Church is changing the way in which it addresses the affairs of church units outside the United States.
The legislating General Conference, which meets every four years, created a new Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters that will meet more frequently than the commission it replaces. Central conferences are groupings of regional conferences in Africa, Europe, and the Philippines.
The former commission met only once during a four-year cycle to review petitions on central conference affairs submitted to the General Conference.
Ronald Bretsch, a commission member from the North Central New York Annual (regional) Conference, said that the growth of the church outside the United States adds to the work of the commission. Therefore it is now necessary to take more time to address the concerns of central conferences beyond the currently allotted time. The major growth of The United Methodist Church is now outside the US.
Previously only the executive committee of the commission could act during the period between sessions of General Conference. The new standing committee will meet twice during the quadrennium, not including General Conference. It will use its meeting times to "review, consider, and develop resolutions and petitions related to central conferences." The committee will continue to report directly to the General Conference, and the General Board of Global Ministries will continue to facilitate the committee and provide staff services.
As with the commission, the committee will "study the structure and supervision of The United Methodist Church in its work outside the United States and its territories and its relationship to other Church bodies," according to the church's Book of Discipline. Some of the petitions that have been filtered through the commission relate to missionary and provisional conferences and new episcopal areas outside the United States. Others relate to processes and organization within central conferences.
Partly because of the growing importance of the central conferences, considerable debate surrounded the committee composition, including the balance between US and other areas. The current membership pattern was retained: one bishop, one ordained minister, and one lay person from each central conference. Each of the five United Methodist jurisdictions in the US also has one lay, clergy, and episcopal member. A rejected amendment would have based composition on regional membership figures.
People both for and against the amendment expressed concern regarding possible paternalistic and colonialist intentions in the considerations for committee membership.
*Freelance journalist Andrew J. Schleicher is a member of the General Conference communications team for the General Board of Global Ministries.
Date posted: Apr 28, 2008