Yesterday began the second week of the General Conference down in Tampa, Florida. After spending last week in committee work, the conference began its plenary sessions today. If you want to keep up with ongoing developments more quickly than I can supply them, check out the Methoblog site or the official GC page for continuing news updates.
Here are some of the more significant actions over the past couple of days:
- The much-debated proposal for a “set aside” bishop failed to pass. The vote was a little over 55% in favor of the measure, but as a constitutional issue it needed to get a 2/3 majority. I understood the desire on the part of some for this measure, but I was not in support of it.
- Legislation has been passed that effectively ends the so-called “guaranteed appointment” of elders in full connection. It is debatable whether the guaranteed appointment provision ever actually existed (for example, the phrase has never appeared in the Book of Discipline). This action by the General Conference removes all doubt, however. As some have said, it will allow bishops and their cabinets to more effectively and efficiently deploy ministers for missional priorities within annual conferences. (For the record, I think this is a good move.)
- A vote for full communion with the historically black Methodist denominations was passed — in what I consider one of the theologically and ecumenically most substantial moves this General Conference could have taken. This vote should be considered as an act of repentance in some ways for the racial divisions we have undergone in the past; whether it will result in greater cooperation in practical ways with denominations such as the AME, AMEZ, and CME churches remains to be seen. I am hopeful.
- Four new members were elected to the Judicial Council, which is the high ecclesiastical court of the United Methodist Church. They included the Rev. J. Kabamba Kiboko (Southern Congo Annual Conference), the Rev. Dennis L. Blackwell (Greater New Jersey Annual Conference), Mr. N. Oswald Tweh, Sr. (Liberian Annual Conference), and Ms. Beth Capen (New York Annual Conference). The Rev. Blackwell and Ms. Capen were re-nominated after having already served on the J.C. The Judicial Council can be a somewhat controversial body simply because of the role it is required to play. However, in a church where canon law is increasingly important as a way to interpret our doctrine and ecclesiastical organization, it is a crucial institution with a necessary mission in the life of the church.
- New members were also elected to the University Senate, which is the accrediting body for schools of theology either affiliated with the UMC or endorsed by it as institutions where candidates for ordained ministry can receive their theological education. Those elected include Dr. Jan Love (dean of the Candler School of Theology), Dr. William J. Abraham (professor at Perkins School of Theology), the Rev. Kasap Owan (North Katanga Annual Conference), and Dr. Bill T. Arnold (professor at Asbury Theological Seminary).