Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Working Toward the 2012 General Conference

The Connectional Table made important decisions during its May 9-11, 2011 meeting in Nashville, Tenn. that take us a step closer toward significant change in The United Methodist Church. We have been focused on laying the groundwork for implementing the Call to Action recommendations that will serve us well beyond the next quadrennium. This work centers on our collective adaptive challenge to focus resources, attention, and energy toward fostering vital congregations. It is a time of great excitement as well as anxiety since we do not know yet what the future holds. But we live in the faith that God is leading us to our future with hope.

World Service Budget

I want to share some highlights from the meeting. One of our main tasks this spring was to meet with members of the General Council on Finance and Administration to make decisions on The UMC’s 2013-2016 World Service budget. Thanks to the hard work and collaborative spirit of agency executives we reviewed a unified budget proposal. The budget affirmed by the CT and GCFA totaled $603 million; down more than 6% from the current quadrennium’s apportioned budget of $642 million. The figures were based on financial forecasts from the Economic Advisory Council. It is important to note that this was not a final decision on a proposed budget for General Conference. The CT and GCFA will reconvene at the end of July to finalize budget preparations, which will take into account financial considerations to further the Call to Action recommendations.

Proposed Changes

In addition to budget deliberations, the CT’s main function is as a leadership forum for the denomination, providing a much-needed space for information sharing and dialogue on the key issues before us. We heard a progress report from the Call to Action – Interim Operations Team (IOT) to affirm their direction. Neil Alexander, a member of the IOT and the CT, presented the proposed changes requiring legislation at General Conference. The current proposals being tested include:

  1. Provide for a set-aside Bishop to serve as the President of the Council of Bishops
  2. Combine general agency functions into fewer groups
  3. Create a new 13-member Connectional Ministries Board to take place of the current agency boards of directors
  4. Create a new functional area called the Connectional Support Services (CSS) with teams that provide networking, resources and support for work in the ACs on the adaptive challenge
  5. Create a Nominating Committee – of 6 people with 3 each from the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table (later the Connectional Ministries Board)
  6. Consider changes in the funding methods and formulas for the agencies receiving general church funds
He explained that the IOT will work with the Council of Bishops, the CT and GCFA on drafting legislation and will continue developing specific proposals for the above changes as well as other areas we asked them to address. The CT gave a cautious affirmation to the IOT to move ahead with this direction, and look forward to seeing more details as the team continues its work. We are blessed to partner with the IOT, a group of committed United Methodists who are contributing their time and talent to bringing specifics to our vision for adaptive change in The United Methodist Church.

Study Group Updates

We also heard about the work from several groups and agencies working throughout the Church. Hearing these reports helps CT members stay focused on the whole, as questions of alignment arise throughout the UMC.

The Apportionment Structure Study Group updated the CT and GCFA on four concrete proposals that emerged from their work. They are to: 1) emphasize generous financial stewardship, 2) establish one general fund called “The United Methodist Fund”, 3) provide organizational and financial flexibility between General Conferences, and 4) adopt an income-based proportional giving system. These proposals will be shared with the IOT as well.

In March, the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits and GCFA held a joint Financial Summit with 400 participants to talk about the Church’s financial state and other current realities. They have been working collaboratively to provide direct support to annual conferences on long-range financial planning.

The CT has been supporting the Vital Congregations Project, an effort led by Bishop John Schol that will introduce a churchwide approach to employing metrics using five common goals. The project has developed a planning guide for annual conferences and will be working with conference staff this month and develop a website with resources allowing churches to connect with each other.

Bishop Scott Jones joined with CT members serving on the Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of the UMC, explaining that they will present a covenant at General Conference and invite delegates to engage in conversation about visions for a worldwide denomination. Additional proposals include creating global Book of Discipline and examining the role and structure of general agencies.

We also heard from CT member Bishop Patrick Streiff who chairs the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters. He explained that the committee recommends adding a fourth bishop in the Central Congo episcopal area based on criteria they developed. Praise God for the vitality and growth of the church in the Democratic Republic of Congo! In other central conference news, a CT task force is working to organize pre-General Conference briefings in the Philippines, Africa and Europe. Modeled after the briefing that takes place in the US, it will prepare General Conference delegates on important issues that will come before the General Conference.

One of the ongoing issues that arises in a denomination the size of the UMC is a consistency of our message both internally and to the world at large. At the CT’s request, United Methodist Communications did an in-depth study on how our messages are perceived and what would be more effective ways of communicating the varied messages across the UMC. We are excited about the results of their work and look forward to coordinating our message so that it can be heard amongst the many competing messages in this new communications age.

“Justice and Joy”

Throughout our meeting we were led in worship by staff of the General Board of Discipleship’s Center for Worship Resourcing Taylor Burton-Edwards, Dean McIntyre and Safiyah Fosua. These sacred times “set the table” for our worshipful work together.

One of the songs we sang together was “A Place at the Table” (Worship & Song, #3149). Each time the CT gathers, this song is sung. The verses describe many aspects of the human condition, and the chorus brings a word of hope: “And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy!”

My prayer is that our work at the Connectional Table be blessed by God as we focus on transforming The United Methodist Church to support vital congregations so that we all may be living examples of the justice and joy of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer.

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