On 2019 Special Session of the General Conference
On Saturday, February 23, 864 delegates and thousands of observers from across the world will gather in St. Louis, Missouri for the opening Day of Prayer of the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church. This preparation sets the stage for the three days of legislative session to follow, through Tuesday, February 26. “The purpose of this Special Session of the General Conference [is] limited to receiving and acting upon a report from the Commission on a Way Forward based upon the recommendations of the Council of Bishops,” as was announced by the Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, Jr., President of the Council of Bishops.
First United Methodist Church of Austin exists to build a community where all people are invited to know God’s love and sent to join God in transforming the world. As the General Conference meets, we pray for the transformation of The United Methodist Church and the widening of our denomination’s policy to affirm that LGBTQIA persons are beloved children of God and full participants in its life and ministry. We have come to know this prayer through our valuing the Storytelling of Scripture and of the lives of gay and straight persons, the Active Learning of a faith that fully involves head, heart, and hands, and the Constructive Disruption of systemic powers that stand in the way of the world God envisions. We long for change in The UMC that affirms the gifts and graces of LGBTQIA candidates for ministry, affirms the marriage commitment of same-sex couples in our community, and allows us to celebrate those marriage vows within the sacred spaces of our church buildings.
Who Will Be There?
Pastor Taylor and Pastor Michael will attend General Conference as observers and other church members have made individual plans to attend.
The representation among the delegates is as follows:
58% from conferences in the US;
30% from conferences in Africa; and
12% from conferences in the Philippines, Europe, and Eurasia and representatives from the concordat churches.
10 delegates (5 lay persons and 5 clergy persons) will represent our annual conference, the Río Texas Conference.
What To Expect?
- It will take significant time to organize and adopt the rules for the Conference, likely the entire first day.
- A vote to receive the Report from the Commission on A Way Forward.
- Lots of Robert’s Rules of Order – the General Conference conducts itself by a democratic process where delegates (clergy and laypersons) vote, while bishops take turns presiding over the Conference.
- On Sunday, the delegates will prioritize their work by grouping together petitions that comprise each plan. Delegates will cast prioritization votes, indicating whether perfecting the legislation is of “high” or “low” priority for the Conference. Then, petitions that are not part of a plan will receive individual prioritization votes. Only once all legislation has been reviewed will the result of the prioritization be made public.
- On Monday, the Conference leadership will use the prioritization to structure the agenda to see that the plans and legislation of highest priority are addressed first on Monday, when the whole group works in legislative committee to perfect the proposals.
- On Tuesday, the Conference will function as the main plenary, to give final consideration to the legislation emerging from Monday’s legislative committee. It would be good form if the prioritization and grouping established on Sunday were carried through to Tuesday’s final consideration, though this is not guaranteed.
What Will Be Voted On?
- The three plans discussed in this Commission’s report overview are: the One Church Plan, the Connectional Conference Plan, and the Traditional Plan. These plans total 48 petitions before the conference: 17 for the One Church Plan, 14 for the Connectional Conference Plan, and 17 for the Traditional Plan (though all or part of 9 Traditional Plan petitions were ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council in October 2018).
- Additionally, the Conference will consider the 30 petitions submitted by individuals or groups. These include the Simple Plan (8 petitions), provisions for a “gracious exit,” and alternative approaches to accomplish aspects of the various plans under consideration.
What You Are Likely to Hear?
- National media will cover General Conference.
- Someone will be quoted saying something hurtful to LGBTQIA persons.
- The media will not clearly understand what was passed or rejected.
- Persons representing advocacy groups will seek to offer their spin to shape the narrative of what has occurred.
- Some group will call for persons and churches to exit the denomination.
How Did We Get Here? – a short answer to a big question
- In 1972, the “incompatibility” statement was adopted, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”
- The UMC has debated this and related statements at every General Conference since 1972, without acknowledging disagreement within the church nor removing nor replacing the statement with an affirming statement.
- In greatly simplified terms and from a longer perspective, The UMC has long existed as a “big tent” church containing people across a wide spectrum of Christian belief. Some focused more on the part of The UMC’s mission to “make disciples” with an evangelistic, conversion-minded understanding. Others focused more on the part of The UMC’s mission regarding the “transformation of the world,” understanding their discipleship through seeing justice embodied in the world. Diverse ministry contexts and disagreement over how to interpret Scripture further magnified these differences in understanding and living out The UMC’s mission.
- While persons within the church held differing understandings in tension, it is worth mentioning that some outside advocacy groups have been reported as taking the opportunity to magnify the divisions in The UMC and other mainline denominations as a means of achieving their secular political purposes.  
- In 2016, the conflict over the place of LGBTQIA persons in the ministry and life of The UMC led the delegates to ask the Bishops to help the denomination find “a way forward” beyond this perpetual conflict. This led to the Commission on A Way Forward and their report which detailed three plans, of which more than 60% of the active bishops recommended the One Church Plan. This report and recommendation forms the basis of work for the 2019 General Conference.
- Pray for the delegates and the many staff and assisting persons at the Conference. Under the best circumstances, the work is hectic and comes with long days. The time crunch will only make this more profound, not to mention people’s heightened emotional state.
- Pray for safe travel, especially for those traveling from continents away.
- Pray for an openness to God’s Spirit at work among us.
- Pray for all who feel the weight of years of oppression and exclusion from our policies and from a lifetime of words not spoken in love.
- Pray for A Way Forward.
- Pray for FUMC Austin.
Soon after the Conference is over, Pastor Taylor will share a word with the congregation. Then, we can take a deep breath, let the dust settle, and give thanks for God’s love and transforming presence in our congregation and in our lives. After that, we can begin to discuss what General Conference 2019 may mean for FUMC Austin in the days and years to come. Pray that we reflect before we act, recall that God’s grace is for all, and seek wisdom for God’s future with us.
- Pray – Daily Meditations, online or received by email.
- Watch the Live Stream
- Overview of Plans to 2019 General Conference
- Read Legislation and Delegate Materials
- Track Legislation Here
- Daily Agenda for Sunday – Tuesday:
- 8:00 a.m. Worship
- 8:20 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Morning session
- 1:30-6:30 p.m. Afternoon Session
- News and Resources Provided by the Río Texas Conference
- Effect of Plans on Clergy Pensions