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COMMENTARY: 2012 General Conference can result in a new church Mary Brooke Casad, Feb 7, 2012
Mary Brooke Casad
By Mary Brooke Casad Special Contributor
From April 24 to May 4, the 2012 General Conference will be considering legislation that will be the first step in moving the denomination toward a structure that realigns money and organizes the functions of the general agencies to better support annual conferences and local churches as they fulfill the goal of creating vital congregations.
As the Council of Bishops has shared in an open letter, this legislation will lead us to a new church: “one that is renewed and clear about its mission. A new church that is always reaching out, inviting, alive, agile, and resilient. We seek a church that is hope-filled, passionate, nimble, called of God, and courageous.”
In order to bring us closer to this vision, here is a short list of what will be before delegates:
• Give Annual Conferences freedom to organize their structures for greater fruitfulness.
• Permit the mid-quadrennium reallocation of money from the general church funds for a sum up to $60 million for purposes related to the challenge of creating and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations.
• Provide for the Council of Bishops to elect a non-residential bishop as President of the Council to help reform the Council and focus its energies on the core challenges.
• Create a Center for Connectional Mission & Ministry under one board of directors to combine the functions of the Connectional Table and nine general agencies. The essential functions of these entities will be organized into offices of shared services and offices of congregational vitality, leadership excellence, missional engagement, and justice and reconciliation. Also proposed is creation of a General Council on Strategy and Oversight, a diverse, representative 45-member council that serves the General Conference by electing board members for the CCMM and ensuring that the board is carrying out the directives of the General Conference.
• Move the functions of the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns to an office of the Council of Bishops, clarifying what have been overlapping responsibilities and improving our ecumenical efforts.
• Set aside United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men as self-funding official United Methodist membership-based organizations.
• Provide a support system for collecting consistent information for all annual conferences about their financial practices and recommend to resident bishops and others strategies for reducing costs and increasing effectiveness.
We see signs of hope already in the radical hospitality of greeting people in need; in the work of our youth and children engaging in communities to spread the gospel through their actions; in our missionaries who have left their families to serve God’s family around the world. I also see glimpses of this new church in the UMC connection that gives us the ability to reach far beyond what a single church can do alone, particularly in social justice, evangelism and discipleship.
I want to take the opportunity to help clarify the future process should the General Conference vote to support the proposed changes by the Connectional Table and the Council of Bishops. A “yes” vote would set several things in motion.
First, the existing Connectional Table will be called together immediately following General Conference to name 15 persons to the governing board of the newly created Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry. Let me be clear, this is not a “super board” to govern all things United Methodist. This board is solely responsible for overseeing that the functions of the current general agencies are aligned and carried out in a way that supports creating vital congregations. The new Center is mandated to hold its first meeting on or before July 31, 2012.
Once these members are named, the Connectional Table will be replaced by the new General Council for Strategy and Oversight, composed of 45 people who represent the diversity and inclusiveness of the UMC and will have oversight of the Center.
Twenty-eight members will be elected during Jurisdictional and Central Conference meetings. Five bishops will be appointed by the Council of Bishops, including one to serve as chair.
Within 90 days of General Conference, the five Racial Ethnic Caucuses will each select one representative. The Advisory Committee on Ministries with Young People will elect three persons to serve.
The remaining members of the General Council for Strategy and Oversight are the chief executives of the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits, United Methodist Publishing House, United Methodist Men and United Methodist Women.
Also, within 90 days of the close of General Conference, the governing boards of the nine general agencies named in the legislation must meet to transfer responsibility and property to the Center. This includes: the General Council on Finance and Administration, the General Board of Global Ministries, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the General Board of Church and Society, the General Board of Discipleship, the Commission on Archives and History, the General Commission on Communications, the General Commission on Religion and Race, and the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.
Once the governing boards are in place, the Center will consider how to redirect up to $60 million of World Service Funds to support development of young people’s lay leadership; Central Conference theological education; the recruiting and training of UM ministerial students under age 35; and creating vital congregations.
The 15-member board will also be working to align the functions of the general agencies into five areas: Offices of Shared Services; Offices of Congregational Development; Offices of Leadership Excellence; Offices of Missional Engagement; and Offices of Justice and Reconciliation. These would report to an Executive General Secretary appointed within the first 24 months.
Time to act
I have heard a wide variety of responses to this proposed plan to realign the agencies. “Isn’t this sudden, even rushed?” asked a young adult church leader. The reality is that the UMC has been at this realignment for years. We have been studying and evaluating different aspects of the church for the past three decades.
We can’t deny the proof that change is needed. We have much to gain by making this transition now and empowering the Annual Conferences and local churches to create vital congregations.
Our resurrection faith calls us to a new future, a new church. May we turn our prayers into deeds!
Ms. Casad is the top executive of the Connectional Table.