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Board considers global aspect of United Methodism

Scott Brewer, director of research for the United Methodist Council on Finance and Administration, addresses members of the Board of Global Ministries in Stamford, Conn. A UMNS photo by Cassandra Heller.  

By Linda Bloom*
Oct. 16, 2007 | STAMFORD, Conn. (UMNS)

One-third of the membership of The United Methodist Church now lives outside the United States. But the denomination's structure remains decidedly centered both in and on the United States itself.

How to respond to the new global reality was the topic of a panel discussion during the Oct. 8-11 annual meeting of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

Scott Brewer, director of research for the denomination's General Council on Finance and Administration, reported that at end of 2005, the denomination had almost 13.8 million baptized and professing members, which includes children who have been baptized. While the U.S. baptized and professing membership stands at more than 8.9 million and continues to decline, "globally, the United Methodist Church is growing," with most of the growth in Africa, he said.

More commonly, United Methodists cite the church's size in terms of professing membership, which stands at almost 11.5 million worldwide and almost 8 million in the United States, as of the end of 2005.

Keeping track of such information is part of a long tradition. "Methodism was one of the very few movements, at least in the 18th century, where everyone counted — everyone was counted," Brewer told the directors. "It's part of our cultural and theological DNA to count each other."
GCFA would like to create a single, worldwide standard of information from every annual conference, regardless of geography, he said. The data gathered would include information about membership and participation figures, finances, appointments, mission and ecumenical work and other business of the annual conference.

Petitions filed

Several petitions on the "worldwide nature of the church" to the 2008 United Methodist General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body, address the issue of structure. General Conference meets April 23-May 2 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Rena Yocom, a consultant for the Board of Global Ministries, noted that petitions submitted by the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table would replace the term "central conference" with "regional conference." The denomination's central conferences are groupings of annual conferences outside the United States.

There also is discussion that the United States might become a regional conference. Such changes require a constitutional amendment, which has to be passed by two-thirds of the denomination's annual conferences.

The Board of Global Ministries has submitted a petition that would change the current Commission on Central Conference Affairs to the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters.

As an independent body, the committee would "serve as the coordinating body to study the structure and supervision of The United Methodist Church in its work outside the United States and its territories and its relationships to other Church bodies."

Bishop Minerva Carcaño

The standing committee would meet twice during every four-year period to work on petitions and resolutions related to the conferences outside the United States.

Autonomous Methodists

Relationships with autonomous Methodist denominations also are being considered. United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcaño spoke with directors about continuing and deepening ties with the independent Methodist churches in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Latin American/Caribbean Methodists regret that the autonomy they received "did not have more flexibility" to allow for unity, the bishop said. In fact, she added, being autonomous "stands in direct conflict" with Methodism's connectional identity and the concept of being one in Christ.

A study committee on the Relationship Between The United Methodist Church and the Autonomous Methodist Churches in Latin America and the Caribbean will report to the 2008 General Conference.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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