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Proposed Separate Books of Discipline will Eliminate Conservative Voice of Overseas Methodists in US

Proposal drafted for ‘global church’

11/4/98 United Methodist News Service

ATLANTA | The first draft of a plan for a new global structure of The United Methodist Church will not be released until February, but the initial concepts were agreed upon at a recent meeting in Atlanta.

The plan calls for the spiritual transformation of The United Methodist Church as well as redesigning the structure of the church.

The church’s 38-member Connectional Process Team, created by the 1996 General Conference, the church’s highest legislative body, developed the plan which will be tested throughout the church before enabling legislation is submitted to the 2000 General Conference in Cleveland.

The team is proposing a global body (see International leaders question ‘global’ agenda of UM Church and Consultation paper stresses unity in Christ) that would meet every four years as the General Conference, not to be confused with the church’s current legislative body by the same name.

A ‘connecting point’

The conference would be a "connecting point where United Methodists around the globe meet at a common table for the purpose of considering and celebrating our common doctrinal heritage and our mission and ministries as disciples who are part of a new world congregation."

The General Conference, the team believes, would "foster visioning, deliberating, celebrating and lifting up the prophetic voice of the church."

In all cases, team members say they want the church to turn away from what some consider to be a preoccupation with legislative and administrative matters so that spiritual transformation can take place.

The first General Conference under the new plan would be held in the year 2004. The Rev. Minerva Carcaņo of Dallas is chairwoman of a writing team for the process team. The final draft must be submitted late in 1999.

Under the plan, the United States would become a Central Conference and would relate to the new General Conference in the same manner as the current Central Conferences outside the United States.

United Methodists in the United States would continue to have their own conference every four years.

The plan calls for four regions: Europe, North America, Africa, and Asia. It is anticipated that affiliated autonomous Methodist denominations might choose to be part of these regional gatherings.

The proposed global General Conference beginning in 2004 would include about 500 delegates–four from each annual conference, regardless of size. To ensure a balance in global representation, it will be recommended that no single region should have more than 50 percent of the total number of delegates. In the event that a single region is likely to have more than 50 percent of the total, additional delegates from other annual conferences would be added.

The General Conference would deal with matters related to ecumenical relationships, global missions and social justice and have legislative responsibility for common material in the Book of Discipline, the church’s collection of laws, other common material such as the Constitution and doctrinal statements. Beyond a relatively small core of common material, each central conference (the United States conference included) would create its own Book of Discipline with policies and procedures to fit its respective cultural context. This has long been the practice for central conferences outside the United States.

The Connectional Process Team plans to propose that the new General Conference be directed by a group tentatively called a "covenant council." This group would assume the global functions of current church boards and agencies. It would also provide the expertise and latest technology for United Methodists to communicate with each other throughout the world.

Every level of church addressed

The proposal addresses every level or organizational entity of church life. Covenant councils are called for at the local church, annual conference, central conference and global levels. Annual conferences would continue to be basic connectional units of the church, but the primary locus of ministry and mission would be the local church.

Districts are seen by the Connectional Process Team as key points for developing spiritual leadership.

The team has not projected costs for the changes it is recommending but plans to do so before the final draft in 1999.

The first draft of the team’s report will be available for distribution across the church in February. It will also be available on the Connectional Process Team Web site, Feedback will be encouraged at every point. United Methodist bishops are being asked to provide time for team presentations at 1999 annual conference sessions.

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