It is great to be back in the saddle after General Conference. You are already aware of the major action of the General Conference regarding unity and the issues around human sexuality (see my blog dated May 19 about “An Offering for a Way Forward”). I want to share with you a list of some of the other actions taken at the 2016 General Conference. The conference:
• Approved “sustainable and responsible investments” (mostly pension funds) in institutions, companies, corporations, or funds whose policies and practices align with the denomination’s Social Principles, but rejected proposals to divest from fossil fuel companies or companies that profit from Israeli military activities in the occupied territories.
• Approved five more bishops for Africa after the 2020 General Conference.
• Updated a resolution that directs churches to “welcome newly arriving immigrants into our congregations” and pushes a path to citizenship.
• Announced a health initiative to reach 1 million children by 2020 with resources for ensuring safe births and preventing illnesses like pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria; promoting breastfeeding; and eliminating barriers to health and medical services. Abundant Health: Our Promise to Children builds on our largest-ever global health initiative, Imagine No Malaria.
• Approved a general church budget of $604 million for 2017 – 2020, a slight increase over the $603.1 million approved at the 2012 General Conference because of a late addition during budget deliberations to add $5 million to double to $10 million the denomination’s Central Conference Theological Education Fund, which supports United Methodist schools, pastors, and pastors-in-training in Africa, Asia, and Europe.
• Overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling on United Methodist agencies to raise awareness about the harm caused by sports teams that use mascots or symbols that disrespect Native Americans.
• Celebrated a few notable milestones, including the 60th anniversary of the Methodist Church granting full clergy rights to women, the 30th anniversary of DISCIPLE Bible Study, the upcoming 25th anniversary of Africa University, and the upcoming 150th anniversary of United Methodist Women.
• Learned about efforts including United Methodists to bring about peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.
• Forged new relationships with the Moravian Church and the Uniting Church in Sweden. We approved a “full communion” agreement with the northern and southern provinces of the Moravian Church in North America that recognizes each other’s ministries and encourages witness and mission work together.
• Authorized the creation of a 15-member hymnal revision committee, so we are on track to get our first new hymnal since 1989. This one will be Internet cloud-based and print-on-demand — the first high-tech hymnal for a mainline denomination.
• Approved a petition to create new provisional central conferences in Rwanda and Southeast Asia/Mongolia.
• Elected members of the Judicial Council, the “Supreme Court” of the denomination. I was again elected first clergy alternate to the Judicial Council, a post I have held since the General Conference of 2012. For the first time, a member from outside the U.S. was elected president of the Judicial Council: Oswald Tweh, a lay member and attorney from Liberia.
• Sent new missionaries from 11 countries to serve in 16 lands. The liturgy of commissioning was believed to be the first at a United Methodist General Conference.
• Approved items related to the Asian American Language Ministry Plan, the Pacific Islander Ministry Plan, the National Plan for Hispanic Ministry, and the Korean Ministry Plan, as well as Accessibility Grants for Churches and the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund.
General Conference always features lively and moving worship services. This conference was no exception. Every worship service featured sermons by United Methodist bishops, and a running theme for the event was to stay humble, serve others, and be the church that Christ wants us to be. Chicago Area Bishop Sally Dyck urged United Methodists to do as Pope Francis said, “Go; learn mercy.” Sierra Leone Area Bishop John K. Yambasu issued a challenge to “dismantle the demons of all sorts of inequalities in our world.” Bishop Ivan M. Abrahams, top executive of the World Methodist Council, reminded delegates that Methodism was founded on a commitment to those on the margins. On the last day, Bishop Elaine Stanovsky reminded those attending that “we will not leave divided because God is not finished with us yet!”
God is not finished with us yet and First United Methodist Church has work to do! We are committed to be in ministry to and with ALL people. We are here to love God, serve people, and transform lives. We are here to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I am blessed to be in this ministry with you.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster