This spring, nearly 1,000 decision makers from around the world will meet in Tampa to set policy and direction for The United Methodist Church for the next four years. To help central conference delegates prepare for the legislative gathering, the Connectional Table sponsored two pre-General Conference briefings in the Philippines and Africa in February.
The events were designed to give delegates an understanding of how General Conference works, logistical information related to their trip, and a working knowledge of some of the major issues that they will encounter when the legislative assembly meets in Tampa, Florida, April 24-May 4.
The briefings, organized by United Methodist Communications, had involvement or support from nearly all of the general agencies. The events followed a similar briefing held by the communications agency for U.S. delegates in Tampa in January. The Connectional Table is sponsoring a fourth and final briefing on April 23 in Tampa for all central conference delegates.
The central conference briefings were held Feb. 4-5 in Manila, Philippines, and Feb. 11-12 in Harare, Zimbabwe. Each event drew capacity attendance, with 48 delegates and about a half-dozen alternates attending the Manila briefing and nearly 60 delegates at the Harare briefing. Attendance at each venue also included local and general church support staff, conference communicators, students from Union Theological Seminary in Manila and Africa University in Mutare, and other observers.
The briefings were moderated by Connectional Table Executive Secretary Mary Brooke Casad and featured expert speakers on each topic. For example, General Conference Secretary L. Fitzgerald Reist II provided a detailed overview of the delegates’ responsibilities, what they can expect as they travel and how the assembly works. With the Rev. Liberato Bautista from the General Board of Church and Society, Rev. Reist led the delegates through a discussion about the visa process that included role playing the visa interview.
Other issues and speakers included:
- The church budget, presented by Moses Kumar of the General Council on Finance and Administration.
- The ministry study and proposed clergy reforms, presented by the Rev. Kim Cape of the General Boa rd of Higher Education and Ministry in Harare and Rev. Reist in Manila.
- Proposed pension plan changes, presented via video and teleconference by Barbara Boigegrain and Dale Jones of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits with additional on-site comments from the board’s Tim Koch.
- Proposed episcopacy reforms, presented in Manila by Bishop Rosemarie Wenner and Bishop Daniel Arichea with additional support from Bishops Rodolfo Juan and Leo Soriano and a video clip of Bishop Larry Goodpaster.
- The worldwide nature of the church, presented via webcast by Bishop Scott Jones with on-site participation by the Rev. Ruby-Nell Estrella in Manila and Rev. Forbes Matonga and Christina Mlambo in Harare.
- The Call To Action proposal, presented in Manila by Bishop Wenner and in Harare by Bishop John Hopkins, with webcast participation in both locations by the Rev. Timothy McClendon and on-site involvement by Rev. Estrella in Manila and Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa and Rev. Matonga in Harare.
- The Act of Repentance and other special observances, presented by Rev. Bautista and Rev. Reist, with video created on behalf of the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.
- Social issues coming up at General Conference, presented by Rev. Bautista and Rev. Reist.
The briefings also included uplifting worship led by Jorge Lockward of the General Board of Global Ministries and incorporating regional volunteers and songs.
Technical support, video production and other services were provided by UMCom staff. Staff with the General Council on Finance and Administration provided guidance and help with financial matters, travel arrangements and other logistical details. In Zimbabwe, Africa University staff provided valuable help with visa letters for the delegates traveling from around Africa. General Board of Global Ministries staff and contractors provided indispensable support with interpretation in English, French and Portuguese at the Harare briefing.
Staff and volunteers with the host conferences in both Manila and Harare provided hospitality and assistance in countless ways, and their participation contributed significantly to the success of the events.
The delegates expressed strong appreciation at each event. On the evaluation forms, they overwhelmingly gave ratings of “excellent” and “good” for the sessions, with a few “fair” ratings. A very small number of “poor” ratings were given in Harare for the episcopacy reform topic, which had to be all but dropped because of time constraints.
Each briefing was followed the day after by a communications and marketing workshop hosted by United Methodist Communications. In Harare, the Rev. Larry Hollon gave delegates an overview of communications as a strategically important ministry for the church. Delegates responded enthusiastically to presentations on new communications resources, such as Frontline SMS texting, that can help grow the church’s ministries and save lives in their areas.