Looking Ahead to GC 2024

By Heather Hahn (United Methodist News)

After a four-year delay, the next General Conference of The United Methodist Church is rapidly approaching. It will take place April 23-May 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina. During their December meeting, the commission members that plan the event heard updates on efforts to ensure General Conference delegates from outside the United States receive the required visas to attend.

The UM Church typically holds its General Conference every four years. Before the pandemic shut down world travel, the coming session was initially scheduled in May 2020 in Minneapolis.

The 2024 General Conference comes as the denomination is grappling with the withdrawal of more than 7,600 U.S. congregations from The United Methodist Church. Those departures represent about a quarter of U.S. churches leaving the denomination under a disaffiliation policy passed by the 2019 special General Conference. The bulk of those departures took place in 2023 before the disaffiliation policy officially ended on December 31. Whether that church-exit policy will be extended beyond this year or expanded to include churches outside the United States will be up to General Conference. The same is true for any change in the denomination’s policies related to LGBTQ people.

All told, General Conference has received 1,100 properly submitted petitions. The Book of Discipline – the denomination’s policy book – requires that all petitions must receive a vote in their assigned committee and all legislation approved by a committee must receive a vote by the full General Conference plenary.

Impact of disaffiliations. At its previous in-person meeting in May, commission members discussed how to handle petitions submitted by people who, for whatever reason, are no longer part of the UM Church. The Book of Discipline states that any United Methodist organization, clergy member or lay member may submit a petition to General Conference. The key phrase in that provision, the Discipline’s Paragraph 507, is “United Methodist.”

The commission approved a recommendation from its rules committee that will allow the Rev. Gary Graves, General Conference secretary, to enter a report identifying petitions submitted by people who have now left The United Methodist Church. Graves will base his report on information provided by chairs of delegations. His report will be shared with legislative committee chairs and printed in the Daily Christian Advocate, a daily report on General Conference proceedings.

The Judicial Council – the UM Church’s top court – has ruled that annual conferences could hold elections to fill any vacancies in their General Conference delegations if their pool of reserve delegates is empty. However, the church’s high court has left it up to General Conference how to handle vacancies in delegations to jurisdictional and central conferences, which meet after General Conference takes place.

A number of U.S. annual conferences held elections earlier to fill vacancies in their jurisdictional conference slates. For now, those delegates are only provisionally elected. General Conference will have final say on whether those additional delegates can be certified to serve. Similarly, if General Conference chooses to allow those vacancies to be filled, annual conferences that have not yet filled vacancies on their jurisdictional and central conference slates will have the chance to do so after General Conference meets. However, if General Conference opts to leave those vacancies unfilled, then the provisional delegates will not be certified and no new elections will need to be held.

Visa updates. The commission also received an update on where things stand in ensuring elected General Conference delegates have the required visas to attend.

Commission plans call for the coming General Conference to have 862 voting delegates – 55.9 percent from the U.S., 32 percent from Africa, 6 percent from the Philippines, 4.6 percent from Europe and the remainder from concordat churches that have close ties to The United Methodist Church. Half are to be clergy and half lay. Bishops preside at General Conference sessions but do not have a vote.

Of the 862 delegates, 360 are to come from Africa, the Philippines and Europe. Kim Simpson, the chair of the Commission on the General Conference, reported that letters of invitation have been sent out to 262 of those delegates – the first step in obtaining visas. Simpson said the commission is currently waiting to receive passport information from another 45 delegates. For the remaining 53 delegates from central conferences, the commission is still waiting on their credentials from their annual conference secretaries.

Handling regionalization legislation. The commission also spent time discussing how to handle the multiple proposals coming to General Conference that affect the denomination’s global structure.

A number of United Methodists have submitted legislation aimed at putting the U.S. and central conferences on equal footing in church decision-making. At this point, central conferences have the authority to adapt the Book of Discipline to their contexts but the United States does not. One result is that U.S. concerns end up dominating General Conference, and the U.S. dominance has contributed to the debates over LGBTQ policies that rage at the global meeting.

The most prominent of the regionalization proposals aimed at changing this dynamic comes from the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, a permanent General Conference committee that meets between sessions. All regionalization proposals, including the standing committee’s plan, are currently assigned to be first considered in the conferences legislative committee.

The committee, whose members have already started discussing the proposals, would have responsibility for refining the legislation and voting on what heads to the full plenary for more possible changes and a vote. But because regionalization has the potential to affect other legislation at General Conference, the commission wanted some way for all delegates to at least keep the proposals in mind during their time in legislative committees.

The commission approved a recommendation that all legislative committees set aside time for delegates to discuss regionalization and how it will affect the work of their committee. That discussion would take place as the first order of business when legislative committees meet on April 25. The committees will receive a resource, including some questions for discussion, prepared by General Conference’s steering committee.

“Regionalization is at the forefront in the minds of every delegate coming, no matter how they feel about it,” said the Rev. Andy Call, a commission member from the East Ohio Conference. “We know that there are going to be significant conversations.”

Heather Hahn is assistant news editor for United Methodist News (www.umnews.org). This is an edited version of her comprehensive report.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join Our Mailing List!

Click here to sign up to our email lists:

•Perspective Newsletter (weekly)
• Transforming Congregations Newsletter (monthly)
• Renew Newsletter (monthly)

Make a Gift

Global Methodist Church

Is God Calling You For More?


Latest Articles: