2012 GENERAL CONFERENCE: Conferencing is hallmark, strength of United Methodists
By ED TOMLINSON
I am proud to be a part of a church where every person has been given the opportunity of input at the highest level of denominational decision-making.
Among the approximately 1,600 petitions that will be presented at the up-coming General Conference, a number will be submitted by individual members of local congregations. Several of these suggested changes will be adopted and included in the 2012 Book of Discipline.
Local churches and committees and organizations of same have also offered ways of improving our mission and ministry. Likewise, some petitions originate by action of the annual conferences.
The 2011 North Georgia Conference Journal includes a resolution calling for immediate reorganization of the structure of our denomination, petitions on just representation to General Conference by the various episcopal areas, and a resolution on the role of retired bishops.
In reality, a person, committee, or body at any level of The United Methodist Church can petition the General Conference. Many of the submissions come from the boards and commissions of the church. Two major examples of their work for 2012 are recommendations from the Ministry Study and the Pension Plan Documents. The Connectional Table and the new Interim Operations Team have proposed fixes for the organization and structure of the denomination.
In order to give full attention to each submission, there are thirteen legislative committees which include Church and Society 1 and 2, Conferences, Discipleship, Faith and Order, Financial Administration, General Administration, Global Ministries, Independent Commissions, Judicial Administration, Local Church, Ministry and Higher Education, and Superintendency.
Each of these committees is assigned a section or sections of the Book of Discipline which cover the subject matter of their discussions. Members are to review and act upon the petitions before them. No action can be taken by General Conference unless a petition has been submitted on that issue or topic. In other words, General Conference cannot delve into anything on its own. The disciplinary paragraph must have been “opened” by some person or group through a petition. The work of the committees varies from a few dozen proposals to well over a hundred.
While the General Conference takes action on the petitions and resolutions, the judgment of the legislative committee will determine the final disposition of a petition in the vast majority of situations. Some are amended or combined with like petitions. Others are approved or rejected. Where there is a significant difference of opinion in the committee, the petition will usually make its way to the floor of General Conference for discussion and/or action.
Petitions and resolutions are filed at least 210 days in advance to allow for their being printed in materials made available to delegates before the opening of General Conference. Early in 2012, the advance materials will arrive and delegates will be reading through the petitions and resolutions in preparation for their upcoming work.
While some denominations focus on congregational determination, the legislative process of The United Methodist Church gives input to every member and any group, or other body, that has membership or direct relationship. In short, conferencing is our hallmark. We anticipate that from our prayers, our honest deliberations, and our willingness to allow the Spirit to lead that wise and good decisions will be made.
Over the next several weeks, the North Georgia Advocate will address some of the key issues facing delegates at the upcoming General Conference describe how decisions are made. You are welcome to submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. If space and research time are available to make an adequate response, your submission will be addressed in this effort.
Ed Tomlinson has been elected as a clergy delegate to four General Conferences. In 2004, he served as Chairperson of the General Administration Legislative Committee which formed the Connectional Table. He is a current director of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits and a member of the Church Systems Task Force formed by action of the 2008 General Conference.
Clergy elected to the 2012 General Conference Session
Sharma Lewis, Jonathan Holston, James Cantrell, Phil Schroeder, Jane Brooks, Alice Rogers, Ed Tomlinson, John Simmons, Nora Martinez, Jamie Jenkins, Chuck Savage, Steve Wood, David Bevel Jones
Laity elected to the 2012 General Conference Session
Jane Finley, Lyn Powell, Mathew Pinson, Joe Whittemore, Jeff Jernigan, Bill Stikes, Tonya Murphy , Leon Jourolman, Dianne Spencer, Joe Kilpatrick, Richard Williamson, Bill Martin, Marjorie Kimbrough