Dear Church Family,

As I mentioned prior to our prayer time in worship on Sunday morning, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church is meeting in Portland, Oregon between May 10-20. I wanted to give you some insight about the conference and its purpose.

Many of you are connected to Jackson UMC because you were drawn to our local congregation and the ministry we do. However, we are not an independent church. Jackson UMC is part of the 12.3 million-member denomination; as such we are connected in mission, ministry, and administration.

What is General Conference and what will they do?
The United Methodist Church’s top legislative body (General Conference) will meet at the Oregon Convention Center on May 10-20, 2016. General Conference is the top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church that meets once every four years. “During the 11-day session, delegates will revise The Book of Discipline, which regulates the manner in which local churches, annual conferences and general agencies are organized. The Discipline includes policies regarding church membership, ordination, administration, property and judicial procedures.”[1] The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church outlines denominational law, doctrine, administration, organizational work and procedures[2].

From its inception, Methodists have meet together in what founder John Wesley called “holy conferencing”. Wesley’s holy conferencing requires the participants to wrap their conversations in prayer. At the same time, it is part of our responsibility to intentionally covenant to also be in prayer. This is a tangible way we can “watch over one another in love.” Therefore, I ask that you pray for the work of the General Conference.

Who goes to General Conference?
The General Conference is an international body. In the United States there are 57 annual conferences that send delegates to the General Conference. The number of delegates each conference sends is based on their local church membership. Equal numbers of church members (lay people or lay representatives) and pastors (or clergy) delegates are sent. This year, 504 delegates will represent the US Annual Conferences. Groups of churches in Africa, Asia and Europe will have 350 delegates. Bishops attend the General Conference but cannot vote.

The delegates being sent from the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference were elected in 2015 at Annual Conference. Linda Barry is your lay representative, she voted for lay delegates.

Greater New Jersey has 8 delegates, 4 clergy and 4 laity. The following lists the delegates and their committee assignments.
Rev. Tom Lank – Faith and Order
Lynn Caterson, Esq. – Judicial Administration
Rev. Eunice Vega-Perez – Global Ministries
Bethany Amey – Church and Society 1
Rev. Jisun Kwak – Ministry and Higher Education/Superintendency
Judy Colorado – Discipleship
Rev. Varlyna Wright – Conferences
Rosa Williams – General Administration
Reserve Delegates will observe and report on two other committees:
Rev. Drew Dyson – Financial Administration
Steve Quigg – Church and Society 2.[3]

What will the delegates do?
The General Conference delegates will be voting on over 1000 petitions that have been submitted by church members, congregations, and annual conferences[4]. The delegates will break up into legislative committees; the committees review, sort and refine legislative proposals for their presentation to the body[5]. Legislation will move from the committee to the plenary sessions for vote.

All petitions are important, however some are more controversial than others and therefore will receive more media attention. Some of the more controversial topics this year might be around human sexuality, revoking guaranteed appointments for clergy, term limits for bishops which includes retired bishops no longer being a bishop or member of the Council of Bishop, an amicable split of the denomination, how the denomination will be organized, and abortion. More discussion can be found on these topics at http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/general-conference-2016-major-legislative-issues

The diversity of the petitions shows the breadth and width of the diversity of understanding within the UMC in the US and around the world. As you can imagine, the important issues here are different from in Africa. Yet, we are all focussed on upholding the Scriptures; bring people into a transformational relationship with Jesus Christ; and striving together to live a sanctified life empowered by the Holy Spirit. So, as you read through them realize that there is a unity about what we believe, but there is some debate about how we live out our lives to best accomplish God’s purposes in this world.

Am I going to General Conference?
Typically, I have not attended General Conference because I have not been elected as a clergy delegate. There are other ways for me to serve at General Conference, but I feel that my ministry is most importantly focused on Jackson, NJ. While the decisions made by the General Conference are important and will have an effect on our church in one way or another, I trust and pray that the delegates make biblically informed, Christ-centerd, loving decisions for the future mission of God’s church, “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

As I stated Sunday, regardless of what decisions are made at General Conference, Jackson United Methodist Church will continue to be open to everyone and we will keep proclaiming the Gospel message. We will continue to embody our mission statement as we LOVE people into the church; LEARN about God; and LIVE transformed lives for Jesus Christ.

I want to encourage you to be informed about the decisions the General Conference makes and the rationale behind the decisions. But more importantly, be fervent in your prayers during this time. Join me in praying that our delegates are able to hear clearly the Spirit’s guidance and the courage necessary to make decisions that will best help the United Methodist Church bring the Gospel message to future generations around the globe.

How you can follow along?
http://www.umc.org/topics/general-conference-2016

If you have any questions or concerns about anything, feel free to contact me. My contact information is [email protected] or 732-789-3398 (cell).

Please pray for our delegates, our denomination, and our church during this time.

Be blessed,
Pastor

[1] http://www.umc.org/topics/general-conference-2016
[2] http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/gc2012-how-book-of-discipline-comes-to-be
[3] https://www.gnjumc.org/2016-general-conference/greater-new-jersey-delegates-and-assignments/
[4] “Any organization, clergy member, or lay member of The United Methodist Church may petition the General Conference….” (¶507, The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2012)
[5] “Each committee receives petitions and proposals, debates them, and determines whether to approve, amend, combine or reject them for recommendation to the full body of General Conference.”