UMC On a National Scope

By April 5, 2019

Since the Recent General Conference decision in St. Louis, conversations have been going on across the nation among UMC clergy who are grappling with troubling issues and implications for their individual congregations. With our own Senior Pastor Dr. Tim Bruster deeply involved in many of these conversations, as a church we are all an active part of the leadership now continuing the work of finding the best Way Forward for our denomination.

In a recent blog, Adam Hamilton, Senior Pastor of Church of the Resurrection, the largest United Methodist congregation in America, explains that four key terms describe where United Methodists stand on same-sex marriage in the church:

Traditionalist: “Marriage is between a man and a women”

Progressive: “God allows his gay and lesbian children to marry, as well” 

Incompatibilist: “I cannot be in a church where others disagree with me and are allowed to do something different than what I believe is right regarding same-sex marriage”

Compatibilist: “I can be in a church where others disagree with me and are allowed to do something different than what I believe is right regarding same-sex marriage.”

Hamilton notes that compatibilists can be either traditionalist and progressive, as long as they believe that there is room for disagreement on how they read and interpret scripture regarding same-sex marriage.

And of course, because nothing about this evolving conundrum is cut and dried, this distinction makes it necessary to take this classification one step further:

Traditionalist-compatibilists are willing to allow for same-sex marriage in other churches, provided they are not required to officiate.

Progressive-compatibilists are willing to allow traditionalists to not marry same-sex couples, provided they are allowed to do so.

Traditionalist-incompatibilists — marriage is between a man and a woman and they cannot be in a denomination where any United Methodist anywhere is allowed to hold same-sex weddings).

Progressive-incompatibilists — those supporting same-sex marriage but who cannot be in a denomination where every pastor and every church is not required to officiate same-sex weddings.

While affirming that most United Methodist congregations and pastors across the United States are compatibilists, he describes the overall national trend as a classic bell curve:

  • 20% of churches tend to be very conservative
  • 65% — 21,000 of 32,000 United Methodist churches in America — occupy the broad center
  • 15% tend to be very progressive.

In meetings and gatherings throughout the US, leading Bishops, Pastors and Laity are now working together to discern where the United Methodist Church will go from here. Hamilton says that 60 (30 in Dallas and 30 in Atlanta) of these leaders, all compatibilists, have begun laying out possible strategies for finding a new way forward.

All of these key leaders, including Dr. Bruster, share a deep conviction and belief that the recent shift to incompatibilism doesn’t represent the vast majority of United Methodists in the United States, that it has brought greater harm to our LGBTQ members and their families, and that it has hurt our witness and our ministry work. This week Dr. Bruster traveled to Atlanta to help build upon the strategy work begun last week in Dallas.

Hamilton says that in an upcoming May 20 – 22 gathering to be held at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, he anticipates hosting 500 church leaders — both clergy and laity — representing every annual conference across the United States, and including representatives from outside the US as well.

While much is still uncertain as we await the declaratory decision of the Judicial Council in early May regarding the constitutionality, application, and meaning of the Traditionalist Plan, these important conversations now taking place across the nation will likely determine some new next steps forward.

As a large downtown church, it is imperative that we remember, as one speaker at our March 3 info session put it, that “lots of little churches are watching us.” We as a faith community under the leadership of Dr. Tim Bruster are setting a tone and pace for others in ways we may not realize. It is, therefore important to stay informed, direct others to our website for information and resources, and keep the prayers flowing that a greater good is being served — and to keep God in the middle all this turmoil.

What do these conversations — and our leadership role in them — mean for our Church? What impact will this historic period have on our future? As always, we will continue to Love God, Serve People, and Transform Lives in a way that draws us closer to our center, Jesus Christ, and therefore closer to one another.
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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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