|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
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
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
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
"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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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