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Global gathering increases General Conference costs


Linda Boulos and Isabell Berger translate discussion at the 2004 General
Conference into English and French for delegates at the United Methodist
assembly. The growing number of international delegates, including translation services, are contributing to the projected $6.6 million cost of the 2008 meeting.
A UMNS file photo by Paul Jeffrey.

By Steve Smith*
Nov. 14, 2007 | FORT WORTH, Texas (UMNS)

General Conference, the worldwide assembly of The United Methodist Church, is becoming costlier to hold and falling more in the red, partially due to the growing number of international delegates.


The Rev. David Wilson serves communion at the closing worship service for the United Methodist Commission on the General Conference.
A UMNS photo by Steve Smith.

Held once every four years, the event's 2008 gathering next spring in Fort Worth is projected to cost $6.6 million, up from the $5.3 million price tag of the 2004 Pittsburgh assembly, even though its length has dropped from 12 to 10 days.

A business report on the gathering was presented during the Nov. 12-13 meeting of the Commission on the General Conference, the convention's planning commission.

The commission also released the order of worship services for the April 23-May 2 gathering, including the speakers and daily themes that revolve around the Council of Bishops' vision for the future of The United Methodist Church.

Meeting at a hotel within a block of the 2008 meeting site, the commission heard projections that the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Fla., may face a record bill of more than $9 million.

Part of the increase is attributed to the growing number of international delegates as the U.S.-headquartered denomination swells its membership rolls in Africa and the Philippines.

Since 1996, the number of international delegates has risen from 14 percent to 29 percent for the Fort Worth convention and is projected to hit 40 percent in 2012, said the Rev. Alan J. Morrison, the commission’s business manager from the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration.

To handle the influx of delegates from Africa, the Philippines and Europe, bills for spoken and written translations have shot from $380,000 in 2000 to an estimated $1.5 million in 2012, Morrison added.

The increases come at a time when General Conference is expected to consider proposals regarding its worldwide nature and structure.

Costs of being a global church

"The challenge for us is the rising cost of what it means to be a global church," the Rev. David Wilson, vice chairman of the commission, told United Methodist News Service following the meeting. "How do we maintain the unity of The United Methodist Church and pay for that, as well as remain faithful to those in the pews who pay the apportionments to make this happen every four years?"

In addition, cities aren’t giving convention planners the competitive rates offered just after the Sept. 11 terrorists’ attacks of 2001, when convention business decreased. This year, for instance, rates for five major downtown Fort Worth hotels within one to seven blocks of the convention center run from $124 to $170 for a single/double occupancy room.

Morrison said denominational leaders did not authorize enough money to cover the entire cost of the 2008 gathering, with potential losses reaching $1.3 million. The 2008 General Conference may include a $750,000 loss, but the proposed budget for the Tampa convention includes $870,000 to pay down the shortfall.

Meanwhile, commissioners are considering ways to cut General Conference costs. One petition submitted to the 2008 assembly would limit the number of delegates to between 500 and 600, rather than the current 1,000, at a savings of about $1.5 million.

"The challenge for us is the rising cost of what it means to be a global church."
–The Rev. David Wilson

The commission saved $250,000 by cutting the length of the 2008 General Conference by almost two days, said Wilson, superintendent in the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Annual Conference in Oklahoma City.

The commission also has considered holding General Conference every six years rather than the current four, and meeting during the summers on college campuses where delegates would stay in dormitories rather than hotels.

"We thought we would save money by cutting a day and a half from this conference, but now we’re looking at the increasing number of delegates from outside of this country, which is increasing our costs," Wilson said. "In some ways, we can cut costs, but there are other financial issues that we can’t control."

'Less doctrinal, more poetic'

The commission heard an update on plans for General Conference worship services, which will be "less doctrinal, more poetic," according to Marsha McFee, worship director.

"The conference’s theme, 'A Future with Hope,' infuses everything we do," said McFee, a United Methodist worship consultant from Truckee, Calif. "These are pathways the bishops have determined are important to our faith community and what we need to do as a church. These services will prepare us each day for the work of General Conference by reminding ourselves to celebrate and pray for our work in those different directions."

Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of Houston, who is president of the Council of Bishops, will lead opening worship on April 23, and Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer of Iowa, who will succeed Huie as president next May, will guide the closing worship on May 2. Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher of the Illinois Area will deliver the Episcopal Address on April 24.

The worship schedule themes and preachers include:

  • April 23—Opening Service of Word & Table, Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World, Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of Houston;
  • April 24—"The Opening," Transforming Existing Congregations, Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher’s Episcopal Address;
  • April 25—"The Planting," Developing New Congregations, Bishop João Somane Machado of Mozambique;
  • April 26—"The Nurturing," Baptismal Renewal, Strengthening Clergy and Lay Leadership, Bishop William W. Hutchinson of Louisiana;
  • April 27—"The Residing," Eliminating Poverty in Community with the Poor, Bishop Minerva Carcaño of Phoenix;
  • April 28—"The Building," Teaching the Wesleyan Model of Reaching and Forming Disciples, Bishop Ernest S. Lyght of West Virginia;
  • April 29—"The Sustaining," Reaching and Transforming the Lives of Children, ecumenical service with Bishop Mark Hanson, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America;
  • April 30—"The Bearing," Ending Racism as We Expand Racial/Ethnic Ministries, Bishop Violet Fisher of New York West;
  • May 1—"The Remembering," Reconnecting with Our Call to be Disciples of Jesus Christ who Transform the World, Bishop Hee-Soo Jung of Chicago;
  • May 2—"The Releasing," Sending Forth Disciples for the Transformation of the World, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of Mississippi;
  • May 2—Closing Worship, "A Future with Hope," Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer.

Commissioners said they pray General Conference will be a holy time that focuses on peace, a common vision, and a mission ultimately leading to a deeper spirituality and sense of hope for the entire denomination.

*Smith is a freelance writer in Dallas.

News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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