Not sure how General Conference works? Here’s GC101
Not sure how General Conference works? Here’s GC101
April 1, 2004
UMNS file photo by John C. Goodwin
The last General Conference met in Cleveland in 2000.
top legislative body of the 9.7 million-member United Methodist Church,
the General Conference, will meet April 27-May 7 in Pittsburgh. The
last General Conference was held in Cleveland in 2000. UMNS file photo
by John C. Goodwin. Photo number 04-146, Accompanies UMNS #150, 4/1/04
A UMNS Report By J. Richard Peck*
the United Methodist Church’s top legislative body meets this spring in
Pittsburgh, nearly 1,000 delegates from around the world will once
again speak to issues of the day and set direction for the denomination.
every four years, the General Conference is the only entity that speaks
for the entire 10-million member denomination. The 2004 assembly will
meet April 27-May 7 in Pittsburgh.
Understanding how General Conference works can be a challenge, even for people who have attended it in the past.
Conference is the legislative body that sets policy for the
denomination,” explains Carolyn Marshall of Veedersburg, Ind., longtime
secretary of General Conference. “We come together from divergent
theological and geographic backgrounds to struggle, pray and work
together to discover who we are as United Methodist people of God.”
an intense, two-week period, 998 delegates from the United States,
Europe, Africa and Asia will handle more than 1,600 pieces of
legislation. They will also participate in daily worship and take other
action related to guiding the church for the 2005-08 period.
votes can change any part of the denomination’s book of law, or Book of
Discipline, except the Constitution, the Articles of Religion or
Confession of Faith. Restrictive rules in the Constitution also prohibit
the conference from eliminating the office of bishop and the right of
clergy to trial by committee. Any proposed changes to the Constitution
requires a two-thirds majority vote of General Conference and a two-thirds affirmative vote by the aggregate total of voting members of all annual (regional) conferences.
UMNS file photo by John C. Goodwin
The location of the quadrennial assembly rotates to cities within the five U.S. jurisdictions (regions).
hundred and eighty-eight of the 998 delegates will come from countries
outside the United States to attend the 2004 General Conference in
Pittsburgh, April 27 - May 7. That number is up 36 from the last
assembly, held in 2000. UMNS file photo by John C. Goodwin, Photo
number 04148, Accompanies UMNS #150, 4/1/04
Conference will take stands on various social-justice issues. The
“Social Principles” were first written in 1972, four years after the
Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church merged to
form the United Methodist Church. These principles have been revised at
every General Conference since then. The quadrennial assembly will also
apply these principles to contemporary social justice issues such as the
situation in Iraq, cloning, peace in the Middle East, immigration
policies, and censorship. These positions on contemporary social justice
issues are later published in the denomination’s Book of Resolutions.
number of delegates from each annual conference is determined by the
number of church members. One hundred eighty-eight of the 998 lay and
clergy delegates will come from nations outside the United States. Due
to increased membership in African churches, that figure is up 36 from
the last assembly, held in 2000 in Cleveland.
total of 8.3 million United Methodists reside in the United States, and
1.4 million live in Africa, Asia and Europe. Sixteen percent of United
Methodists live in Africa, 1 percent in Europe and 2 percent in
Southeast Asia, particularly in the Philippines.
Each annual conference sends an equal number of lay and clergy delegates to the legislative assembly.
location of the quadrennial assembly rotates to cities within the five
U.S. jurisdictions or regions. Pittsburgh is in the Northeastern
assembly is expected to cost $5 million, with an estimated $2 million
of that covering the travel, meals and lodging of delegates.
clergy and lay member of the denomination has the right to petition the
conference. However, most petitions are sent to General Conference by
local churches, general agencies and annual conferences.
Commission on General Conference, which planned the 2004 assembly, will
suggest that in the future only annual conferences and general agencies
be allowed to submit petitions. If that measure is approved by the
conference, individuals and churches would have to have their proposals
approved by a general agency or an annual conference in order to be
considered by General Conference.
General Conference, petitions are first considered by one of 11
legislative committees that may vote concurrence, non-concurrence or
concurrence as amended. Most of the first week is spent considering
proposals in committees. During the second week, the entire gathering
considers legislation proposed by the committees. A proposal coming from
a committee is called a “calendar item.”
expedite the process, legislative committee calendar items with fewer
than five negative votes are placed on a “consent calendar.” If an item
is not removed by a written request of five delegates, and if it does
not involve funding or a Constitutional amendment, the entire consent
calendar is approved with a single vote. General Conference may change
the specific rules related to the consent calendar, but the process
enables the assembly to quickly deal with hundreds of legislative
UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose
Nearly 1,000 delegates from the United States, Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia will tackle 1,603 pieces of legislation.
1,000 delegates from the United States, Europe, Africa and Southeast
Asia will tackle 1,603 pieces of legislation at the 2004 General
Conference to be held in Pittsburgh, April 27 -May 7. UMNS file photo by
Mike DuBose. Photo number 04-147, Accompanies UMNS #150, 4/1/04
On the opening
day, following a first-ever orientation session for all delegates, a
worship service will surround delegates and church leaders with songs
from around the world. The songs will celebrate a renewal of baptism and
Holy Communion, emphasizing the conference theme, “Water Washed and
Spirit Born.” Banners, dancers and a variety of drummers and musicians
will emphasize the worldwide nature of the gathering.
the first week, the assembly will hear the Episcopal Address, given by
Bishop Kenneth Carder of the Mississippi Area on behalf of the Council
of Bishops. They also will hear the Laity Address, given by Gloria Holt
of Trussville, Ala.
April 30, the conference will hold a service of appreciation for
African Americans who remained with the denomination during the
segregation era and after. At the 2000 gathering in Cleveland, the
conference held a service of confession and sought forgiveness for
actions leading to the formation of black Methodist denominations in the
18th and 19th centuries.
George and Laura Bush, members of the United Methodist Church, have
been invited to address the Pittsburgh gathering, but assembly planners
have not received any verification of their attendance.
of the denomination’s 69 active bishops will preside over each plenary
session. However, bishops cannot vote on any of the proposals and may
speak to issues only after approval by a majority of delegates.
are selected to preside by a committee of delegates, and a single
bishop generally presides over only one plenary session. Since the
assembly has a history of getting into some knotty parliamentary
problems, presiding officers ask colleagues to serve as
parliamentarians. Both active and retired bishops sit together behind
the presiding officer.
year, the conference’s Rules Committee will ask delegates to approve a
proposal that bishops also be allowed to serve as chairpeople of
sessions of the assembly will be translated simultaneously from English
into German, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Swahili.
the first time, the Advance Edition of the Daily Christian Advocate, a
1,600-page English-language book including a listing of delegates, all
proposals and reports from all agencies, has been translated into
Portuguese and French.
day during the conference, delegates will also receive an English
edition of the Daily Christian Advocate containing the agenda, news,
features, recommendations from legislative committees, and a verbatim
report of preceding plenary sessions. Those daily editions enable
delegates to know which proposal is being debated and actions taken on
previous days. By the end of the 10-day session, delegates will have
received more than 2,500 DCA pages.
A computer-tracking system enables delegates and visitors to determine the status of any petition or calendar item.
For additional information on General Conference, visit www.gc2004.org online.
is a retired clergy member of New York Annual Conference. He served as
editor of the Daily Christian Advocate for four General Conferences and
edited the 2000 Book of Resolutions. News media can contact Tim Tanton at (615)742-5470 or email@example.com.