GC2019 Special Session Recap

By March 1, 2019

This is the fifth in the series of articles regarding the called Special Session of the United Methodist General Conference. If you’d like to read the rest of this series, go to fumcfw.org/denominationnews.

As you are probably aware, the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church met this past week to vote on the three plans proposed by the Council of Bishops, based on the two-year painstaking work of the Commission on A Way Forward.

The General Conference, the only body that can speak for the entire, global denomination, usually meets every four years. This meeting was only the second time since The United Methodist Church formed in 1968 that it has held a General Conference outside of its normal four-year schedule. (The other one was in 1970, to organize the merger of Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren denominations).

Who are the delegates — and where are they from?

At this conference, each delegate has one vote. It is made up of equal numbers of clergy and lay delegates, with a minimum of two from every United Methodist conference around the world. The number of delegates per annual conference is calculated based on the requirement for one lay and one clergy delegate for each annual conference, with additional delegates assigned according to a formula that considers the total clergy and lay membership per conference with a. The Constitution of The United Methodist Church allows for the General Conference to have anywhere from 600 to 1,000 delegates.

The Commission on General Conference, which plans these lawmaking assemblies, sets the delegate number for each conference, which in this case was 864, mirroring the delegation from GC2016. About 58 percent of these delegates are from the United States and 30 percent from Africa. The remaining delegates are from the Philippines, Europe and Eurasia as well as 10 from “concordat” churches with which The United Methodist Church has formal relationships.

The head of our Central Texas Conference (CTC) delegation is Dr. Tim Bruster, our FUMCFW Senior Pastor, who also served as the head of our delegation in both 2008 and 2016. The head of delegation alternates between first-elected clergy and laity. Dr. Bruster was also elected first clergy alternate to the Judicial Council 2012-2016. The first elected Lay delegate from the CTC is Tom Harkrider, a member of Arborlawn United Methodist Church and a General Conference delegate since 2004.

Why is this happening now?

This issue of same-gender weddings and “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy, banned by the United Methodist Book of Discipline has been escalating in the UMC since the 1970s. In 2016, by a vote of 428 to 405, General Conference authorized the bishops to form the Commission on a Way Forward to do a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.

What did the Special Session decide?

The result of this Special Session of the General Conference, outlined by Dr. Tim Bruster (the lead delegate of our Central Texas Conference) in his blog this week is basically that the One Church Plan was voted down and the Traditionalist Plan was passed by a relatively small margin of the global delegates.

Near the end of the conference, Dr. Bruster made a motion to send the Traditionalist Plan back to Judicial Council for a ruling on its constitutionality. (Watch video of this impassioned statement.) In this motion he reminded everyone the importance of “defining ourselves by our center, which is Jesus Christ, rather than by our boundaries.”

If you’ve been following this unfolding story, you may remember that the Judicial Council ruled the Traditionalist Plan unconstitutional back in October 2018 and requested changes to it ahead of this Special Session; however, several of those changes were not made and the plan that passed remains largely unconstitutional. (View a comparison of plans with the unconstitutional parts stuck through in red.)

The General Conference delegates then voted to send the Traditional Plan to Judicial Council for a declaratory decision on its constitutionality, application, meaning, and effect. The Council will rule on this at its next scheduled meeting April 23-26 in Evanston, Illinois.

So now what?

While it is uncertain what will happen once this plan goes back to Judicial Council in April, and what if any of the provisions of the plan will be ultimately go into effect. this additional step offers some assurance that this story is far from over — and that the Traditionalist Plan is not yet fully passed, despite what has been reported and some may think or believe.

“I remain convinced that the church is not defined by its boundaries, but by its center, which is Jesus Christ and the closer we draw to Jesus the closer we draw to one another,” Dr. Bruster said in a video interview at the conclusion of the Special Session.

Dr. Bruster will present the third in his series of info sessions concerning the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference this Sunday at 2:00 pm in the Sanctuary.

At this time he will go into more detail regarding the happenings at the Conference and what it may mean to the future of our denomination as a whole, even though the impact on our church, as he continues to assure, will likely be minimal.

“It remains my hope that as we move into the future, we’re still the church, we’re still in ministry, we‘re still the body of Jesus Christ. It’s up to us to keep Christ at our center and to continue to draw closer to him so that we can draw closer to one another.”

“We’re still the same vibrant community of faith that welcomes all people,” he says. “We are still in ministry together, still focused on our future and fulfilling all the goals of our Focus First Leadership Summit. Regardless of what happened at the General Conference level, together, we will continue to Love God, Serve People, and Transform Lives — with Christ as our center.”
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Organization: The Church as Connection (from umc.org)

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.

Read on UMC.org

Constitutional Structure (from umc.org)

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.

Read on UMC.org
UMC.org Glossary

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