An Unexpected Turn

By March 7, 2019

For an enlightening explanation of how the church from its earliest times has wrestled with scriptural and theological questions, be sure to watch Dr. Tim Bruster’s March 3 Sermon. 

View this sermon on YouTube or listen to this sermon via podcast.

This past Sunday, Dr. Tim Bruster led his third in a series of info sessions regarding the Special Session of the General Conference that met in St Louis last week to vote on “A Way Forward” for the global United Methodist Church. Three plans were presented, one of them, the One Church Plan, was recommended by a 2/3 majority vote by the Council of Bishops, largely because it was the plan that allowed the most latitude of ministry in cultural context for the global denomination.

Because the United Methodist Church is structured much like the government of the United States with three governing branches, the recommendation of the Bishops was not enough. It had to be voted on by the General Conference, which consists of delegations from around the world: 864 delegates, about 58 percent from the United States and 30 percent from Africa, and 12 percent from the Philippines, Europe, and Eurasia, as well as “concordat” churches with which The United Methodist Church has formal relationships.

In this video, Dr. Bruster, who serves as both Lead Delegate from our Central Texas Conference and First Clergy Alternate to the Judicial Council, explains what happened and what didn’t happen at the Special Session, and what it may or may not mean for our church, our conference and the other United Methodist Churches across America. The first 23 minutes of this video are Dr. Bruster’s presentation; the remaining hour and 54 minutes offers up the unedited questions and answers of the approximately 700 people present.

The conversation about the impact of this unexpected decision on our church is just beginning, and we want to encourage honest, respectful, loving and grace-filled conversations about how we can be the model for others wondering how to “agree to disagree” and yet remain together as a healthy, growing and vibrant church.  Regardless of what goes on at the General Conference level, we are the same church, doing the same ministries together,  and sharing the same commitment to Love God, Serve People, and Transform Lives — in Fort Worth and around the world.

This has been a lot to digest. Questions are bound to keep bubbling up, and answers can be elusive. The most important thing we can do is keep talking, keep listening, and keep loving one another as our entire church family grapples with powerful emotions and confusion and worries about where we go from here.

If you’d like to see evidence of God at work in all of this, click here for an ongoing collection of quotes from our congregation, curated from verbal statements, emails, text messages, social media posts.) Together, these statements provide an amazing amount of hope that even if the General Conference wasn’t able to do it globally, we as a church will find our own Way Forward, one that allows for difference of opinion and yet keeps us, as Dr. Bruster said on the General Conference floor in his impassioned statement for unity in the church,  “defining ourselves by our center, which is Jesus Christ, and not by our boundaries.”

We’re currently planning future info sessions, listening posts, small group meetings, and making appointments available for one-on-one conversation to keep the communication flowing. If you’d like to submit a question to be addressed at a future info session, please click here and your question will be saved for these upcoming events as scheduled. Everyone is important, all sides of this issue matter, and every prayer makes a difference. Together, we can figure this out.
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Organization: The Church as Connection (from

Terms: General Conference, Jurisdictional Conferences, Central Conferences, Annual Conferences, Districts, Charge Conferences and Local Churches

United Methodist leaders often speak of the denomination as “the connection.” This concept has been central to Methodism from its beginning.

The United Methodist structure and organization began as a means of accomplishing the mission of spreading scriptural holiness. Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, recognized the need for an organized system of communication and accountability and developed what he called the “connexion,” a network of classes, societies, and annual conferences.

Today, our denomination continues to be organized in a “connectional” system, which “enables us to carry out our mission in unity and strength” (Book of Discipline, ¶ 701). Every local church is linked to an interconnected network of organizations that join together in mission and ministry, allowing us to accomplish far more than any one local church or person could alone.

Within the connectional structure of The United Methodist Church, conferences provide the primary groupings of people and churches for discernment and decision-making. Wesley described Christian conferencing as a spiritual discipline through which God’s grace may be revealed. At every level of the connection, church leaders and members come together in conversation, or conferencing, to discuss important issues and discover God’s will for the church. The word, conference, thus refers to both the assembly and organization of people as well as the process of discerning God’s call together.

General Conference

As the primary legislative body, General Conference is the only entity with the authority to speak on behalf of the entire United Methodist Church. The General Conference meets every four years to consider the business and mission of the church. An equal number of lay and clergy delegates are elected from United Methodist conferences around the world to decide matters of policy and procedure for the denomination. Learn more.

Jurisdictional Conferences

There are five geographic jurisdictions, or regions, in the United States, which are comprised of eight to 15 annual conferences each. Learn more.

Central Conferences

In Africa, Europe and the Philippines, there are seven geographical regions, called central conferences, each of which is comprised of annual conferences and divided into several episcopal areas. Learn more.

Annual Conferences

The annual conference is a geographical entity, an organizational body (made up of elected lay and clergy members), and a yearly meeting. It is the fundamental body of the church (Book of Discipline, ¶ 11). Learn more.


Each local church is part of a district, which is an administrative grouping of churches in a geographic area. Learn more.

Charge Conferences and Local Churches

As the visible presence of the body of Christ, the local church is the place where members grow in faith and discipleship, putting their faith into action through ministry in the world. Learn more.

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Constitutional Structure (from

Terms: General Conference, Council of Bishops, Judicial Council

The United Methodist Church does not have a central headquarters or a single executive leader. Duties are divided among bodies that include the General Conference, the Council of Bishops and the Judicial Council. Each of these entities is required by our Constitution, a foundational document, to be part of our structure, and plays a significant role in the life of the church.

General Conference

The General Conference, the primary legislative body of The United Methodist Church, is the only body that speaks officially for the church. Meeting once every four years to determine legislation affecting connectional matters, it is composed of no fewer than 600 and no more than 1,000 delegates.

Working within the boundaries of the Church Constitution and General Rules, the General Conference defines and fixes the conditions, privileges and duties of church membership; the powers and duties of elders, deacons, diaconal ministers and local pastors; and the powers and duties of annual conferences, missionary conferences, charge conferences and congregational meetings. It authorizes the organization, promotion and administrative work of the church. The General Conference also defines the powers and duties of the episcopacy, authorizes the official hymnal and book of worship, provides a judicial system and procedures, initiates and directs all connectional enterprises of the church and enacts other legislation for the operation of the church. Learn more.

Council of Bishops

The Council of Bishops gives general oversight of the ministry and mission of the church and spiritual leadership to the entire church connection. Composed of all active and retired bishops, the council meets as a group at least once a year.

Bishops are elected by Jurisdictional Conferences and assigned to a particular area, made up of one or more annual conferences. Each bishop provides oversight of the ministry and mission of annual conferences in his or her area and appoints all clergy to their places of service.

Through its Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships, the council builds and maintains ties with other Christian denominations as well as other faith groups. Learn more.

Judicial Council

As the denomination’s highest judicial body or “court,” the Judicial Council’s nine members, made up of laity and clergy, are elected by the General Conference and normally meet twice a year to consider whether actions of the various church bodies adhere to the constitution and follow the rules outlined in the Book of Discipline.

Their cases are generally referred to them by action of the Council of Bishops, the annual conferences or the General Conference. According to the Constitution, decisions of the Judicial Council are final (Paragraph 57, Article III). Learn more.

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