By Steve Zekoff
During the 2014 Annual Conference, ten laity and ten clergy were elected to serve as Wisconsin’s delegation for the 2016 General Conference and North Central Jurisdictional (NCJ) Conference of The United Methodist Church. The General and Jurisdictional Conferences are convened once every four years (quadrennium). Lay delegates elected to represent Wisconsin May 10-20, 2016 at General Conference in Portland, Oregon are Lisa King, Barbara Dick and Gail Burgess. Clergy delegates are Dan Dick, Sam Royappa and Steve Zekoff (delegation chair.) Lay reserve Katie Estrem-Fuller Crise and clergy reserve Amanda Stein will also attend.
On July 13-16, 2016, the North Central Jurisdiction (NCJ) will convene in Peoria, Illinois. All delegates to General Conference serve as NCJ delegates. Additional jurisdictional delegates are laity Tom Popp and Judy Vasby and clergy Jorge Mayorga Solis and Dan Schwerin. The remaining eight delegation members serve as NCJ reserves. They will be moved up to voting delegate status if another delegate cannot serve. The lay reserves are Jennifer Southworth, John Lawson, Diane Odeen and Julie Schubring. Clergy reserves are Dawn Helton Anishinaabeqwa, Jeremy Deaner, George Kafer and Jenny Arneson.
An International Denomination
The United Methodist Church is an international denomination. When the General Conference gathers, equal numbers of lay and clergy delegates come from across the 144 worldwide Annual Conferences. Each delegation’s size is calculated based on its Annual Conference’s membership. The 864 delegates are distributed as follows: 504 U.S.; 260 Africa; 50 Philippines; and 40 Europe. There are an additional ten delegates from other Methodist denominations. The largest Annual Conference delegation is 48 from North Katanga in Congo. The largest U.S. delegations are from North Georgia and Virginia, each with 22. Wisconsin has six (three clergy and three lay.) The smallest Annual Conferences have one clergy and one lay delegate.
The host city for each General Conference has rotated among the five jurisdictions in the U.S. The 2020 General Conference will be in Minneapolis. In 2024, the Philippines will host the first General Conference convened outside the United States. The 2028 General Conference will be held on the continent of Africa.
General Conference Details
Each General Conference includes the reunion of the UM family, inspiring worship and music, advocacy and legislative deliberations. Active and retired bishops as well as the general secretaries of the general church agencies are present. The Judicial Council (the UM high court) is in session the entire two weeks of General Conference, and is regularly put to work. The General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) helps with perfection of the budget.
The Secretary, Business Manager, and Treasurer of the General Conference each have staff on site handling behind the scenes details efficiently and effectively. Interpreters provide translation into French, Portuguese, Spanish, Swahili and other languages. The United Methodist Publishing House assembles a staff to publish the Daily Christian Advocate (DCA). The DCA includes news items, announcements, legislative status reports, and a verbatim transcript of each plenary session. A Local Host Committee provides hospitality. Much of these staffs assembled for this two-week conference are volunteers.
Religious and secular press cover the General Conference. There are displays (including a Cokesbury retail outlet), visiting dignitaries, musical performance groups, interested visitors, and advocates representing various voices in the Church.
The General Conference speaks on behalf of the entire denomination. Its three legislative responsibilities can be summarized in categories. First, adopt revisions to The Book of Discipline (church law). Second, act on proposed resolutions for The Book of Resolutions (UMC teachings). Third, adopt a General Church budget for the quadrennium beginning the following January 1. It also elects the members of the Judicial Council, the University Senate, and other positions.
During the first week, delegates work within committees considering submitted legislation. The 12 legislative committees include Church and Society 1 and 2, Conferences, Discipleship, Faith and Order, Financial Administration, General Administration, Global Ministries, Independent Commissions, Judicial Administration, Local Church, and Ministry and Higher Education. There is also a Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters. The petitions passed by the 2015 Wisconsin Annual Conference addressing worldwide denominational restructure, health and welfare ministries, a missional Book of Discipline, and persecuted Christians will be considered by legislative committees. The second week of General Conference is when all voting delegates act on recommendations from the legislative committees.
Meeting of U.S. Jurisdictional Conferences
Each July, following General Conference, the five U.S. Jurisdictional Conferences meet. These gatherings focus on the mission work within their jurisdiction, adopting their own budgets and electing bishops. The North Central Jurisdiction includes the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.
The NCJ currently has nine active bishops. Illinois. Four of the currently serving bishops have announced their retirements following the 2016 Jurisdictional Conference: Michael Coyner (Indiana), John Hopkins (East Ohio), Jonathan Keaton (Illinois Great Rivers) and Deborah Kiesey (Michigan). Following the election of new bishops, assignments will be made of all newly elected and continuing NCJ bishops to the nine episcopal areas across the Upper Midwest. Assignments will be effective September 1 for the following four years.