by Heather Hahn*
United Methodist bishops have voted overwhelmingly in favor of proposals to restructure the denomination and redistribute up to $60 million in church funds.
“We see a new church,” the bishops’ letter says. “It is a church that is clear about its mission and confident about its future, a church that is always reaching out, inviting, alive, agile and resilient.” The letter asks all United Methodists to “work to do the ‘new thing’ God intends for our church and discover the path God is making for our future.”
Here are some of the highlights of the letter:
- Give annual conferences freedom to organize their structures for greater fruitfulness.
- Permit the mid-quadrennium reallocation of up to $60 million from the general church funds for creating and increasing vital congregations.
- Create a United Methodist Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry under one board of directors to combine the functions of the Connectional Table and nine general agencies: the Board of Church and Society, Board of Global Ministries, Board of Discipleship, Board of Higher Education and Ministry, Commission on Archives and History, Council on Finance and Administration, Commission on Religion and Race, Commission on the Status and Role of Women and United Methodist Communications (which operates United Methodist News Service). The work would be organized into offices of shared services, congregational vitality, leadership excellence, missional engagement, and justice and reconciliation.
- Provide for the Council of Bishops to elect a non-residential bishop as council president to help reform the council and focus its energies on core challenges.
- Move the functions of the church’s ecumenical agency, the Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, to an office of the Council of Bishops.
- Set aside United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men as self-funded, official membership-based organizations.
- Provide a support system for collecting consistent information for all annual conferences about financial practices and recommend to bishops and others strategies for reducing costs and increasing effectiveness.
The Council of Bishops’ vote, which is as part of the multiyear Call to Action process, came after two days of discussions among the bishops in private conversations, small groups and plenary sessions. Even as many bishops stood up to commend the letter, they also said there were parts they would tweak if they could. “I don’t agree with everything” was a frequent refrain.
Bishops also acknowledged that General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body, likely would alter the legislation. General Conference will next convene April 24-May 4 in Tampa, Fla.
However, many bishops insisted The United Methodist Church needs some kind of reform.
Iowa Area Bishop Julius C. Trimble likened the letter to a GPS that can guide drivers toward their destination even if it doesn’t always get them to the exact address.
“We cannot get where we want to go without some form of a GPS, and we certainly aren’t going to get close without leaving the house,” Trimble told his colleagues to murmurs of agreement.
To read the entire United Methodist News Service article, including more detail about what the Council of Bishops is endorsing and some of the concerns raised by bishops as they deliberated the language and content of the letter, visit umc.org.
*Heather is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. firstname.lastname@example.org