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Delegates prepare, pack for General Conference

In late April, nearly 1,000 delegates will converge on the Fort Worth (Texas) Convention Center for the 2008 United Methodist General Conference. A UMNS photo courtesy of the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau.

A UMNS Feature
By J. Richard Peck*

April 16, 2008

Georgina Dapcevich

Georgina Dapcevich, a lay speaker and president of United Methodist Women at Sitka (Alaska) United Methodist Church, is packing her bags for General Conference.

One of two delegates from the Alaska Missionary Conference, Dapcevich will join nearly 1,000 other United Methodist delegates from the United States, Europe, Africa and Asia for the denomination's top legislative meeting, set for April 23-May 2 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Dapcevich, the first Native Alaskan elected as a delegate, describes herself as "a 52-year-old woman of Tlingit heritage and a strong spiritual faith in Jesus Christ."

She is one of 175 laywomen delegates from the United States who will join 131 clergywomen delegates in Fort Worth. That 306 total is down from 343 in 2004, but there are 100 fewer U.S. delegates attending the 2008 session, due to an increased representation from countries outside of the United States, primarily countries in Africa.

Forty-two percent of the U.S. clergy elected to General Conference are women, compared with 26 percent of the total number of the church's female clergy in the United States. Forty-seven percent of the lay delegates are female, while 56 percent of the denomination's lay U.S. members are women.

For the past few months, Dapcevich has been studying 1,564 pieces of proposed legislation that delegates will consider during the 10-day legislative marathon, which is held once every four years. She will pay special attention to 60 legislative proposals assigned to the General Administration Legislative Committee, on which she will serve.

Among other things, her committee will review a report of the Task Group on the Global Nature of the Church, which proposes to make four changes in the church's constitution designed to pave the way for a new worldwide church structure.

Dapcevich retired in 2007 as administrator at the Sitka Pioneer Home and has remained active at all levels of the church. At her local church, she serves on the pastor-parish relations committee and the administrative board. On the conference level, she serves on the committee on finance and administration and has been active on its Native ministries and new ministries committees. She is also on the denomination’s Commission for Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

Family ties

As with previous General Conferences, the 2008 event includes a number of delegates with family ties.

"If we are able to sleep six hours a night, that would be really good." – Bill Junk

Brothers Bill and Tom Junk are part of the 20-member Oklahoma Conference delegation. Bill is president of the Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation and a member of New Covenant United Methodist Church in Edmund, and Tom is a five-time Oklahoma Conference delegate and a member of First United Methodist Church in Tulsa.

Bill, who is attending his first General Conference, has been warned by his brother that he won't get much sleep in Fort Worth because of the large amount of legislation considered. "If we are able to sleep six hours a night, that would be really good," he told Contact, the newspaper of the Oklahoma Annual (regional) Conference.

Even though they'll be at the same assembly, the brothers may not see a lot of each other. Bill will serve on the 62-member Financial Administration Committee, and Tom will serve on one of two Church and Society committees. Tom’s 57-member group will be the first to deal with perennial lightning rod issues related to human sexuality.

The brothers grew up Catholic in Shawnee, but they began to attend a youth group at Saint Paul’s United Methodist Church in that city. "I’ve really grown to love the church," Bill said.

Both men expressed their appreciation to their employers for allowing them to commit their time and gifts to this assembly.

Forging new bonds

Keya Belt, a 25-year-old laywoman in the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, will attend her first General Conference with her mother, the Rev. Cynthia Belt, pastor of Centennial Caroline Street United Methodist Church in Baltimore.

The Rev. Cynthia Belt is a clergy delegate, and her daughter is a lay delegate. A UMNS photo by Marta W. Aldrich.

"We are excited," Cynthia told the United Methodist Reporter. "It’s one more thing that we have the opportunity to do together. But also since I know who my daughter is and that she is centered spiritually, I know she has a lot to offer the church. She has the wisdom and understanding to speak for her generation."

Keya teaches middle school students at a Lutheran school and is active in her mother’s church, working within the children’s ministry and with sacred dance.

Cynthia will be a member of the 57-member Conferences Legislative Committee that will consider proposed amendments to the church constitution related to a new global church structure.

Keya will serve on the Ministry and Higher Education Committee. The 77-member panel will deal with a whopping 229 petitions, the highest number assigned to any single legislative group.

General Conference delegates are elected from among the members of the church's annual (regional) conferences. To serve, they must have been a member of The United Methodist Church for two years and active in a United Methodist congregation within the boundaries of the annual conference for four years.

*Peck is a retired clergy member of New York Annual Conference and has attended 10 General Conferences, four of which he served as the editor of the Daily Christian Advocate.

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

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