The Commission on the General Conference is struggling to make its “best informed decisions” about the process for the postponed conclave without the aid of the Book of Discipline, which doesn’t address what to do in the kind of crises faced in 2020.
The commission held a two-day virtual gathering Dec. 11-12, 2020 to discuss the complex matters concerning the postponed 2020 General Conference session that is currently set for Aug. 29 – Sept. 7, 2021. Among its decisions:
- The Technology Study Team must submit its report to the Commission by Jan. 31, 2021. This team is exploring the implications of options for accommodating full participation at General Conference including, but not limited to, the possibility of using technology and online voting. In advance of their report, it was decided that Commission members could observe the team meetings and receive meeting minutes. The Technology Study Team report will be reviewed and then discussed at the Feb. 20 commission meeting.
- The Commission affirmed the process for receiving petitions submitted after the original 230- and 45-day deadlines, noting that they will be treated and processed through the existing system of receiving petitions submitted after the deadline. The Committee on Reference will determine whether petitions submitted after the original deadlines should be considered, following the normal procedures and processes already contained within the Plan of Organization and Rules of Order.
- The process for amending previously submitted petitions was also reviewed. The Commission asks that, in light of the extenuating circumstances and postponed original start date, staff arrange to gather the Committee on Reference as soon as practical.
The commission’s actions align with the overall understanding of keeping to the original arrangements and deadlines such as election of delegates, selection of legislative committees, agenda, nominations, theme and logo, and the extension of terms of office until lawful successors can be elected and installed. Since the 2020 General Conference was postponed and not cancelled with everything starting over, the arrangements all move forward to the postponed session.
New concerns have been raised by the Commission in light of news about the U.S. Department of State’s Visa Bond Pilot Program that could hinder participants from traveling to General Conference. The program that began Dec. 24, 2020 is only slated to be in force for six months, but it’s uncertain whether these travel restrictions will be extended, which could impact attendees of the upcoming session.
As they gather additional information, the Commission’s executive committee will share information with the Council of Bishops to expedite decisions surrounding General Conference and other Jurisdictional and Central Conference bodies. At the same time, the commission and the Council seek to eliminate duplication in the work being done by both groups.
“We realize that time is of the essence. However, the reality is that there are parts of the Book of Discipline that do not speak to the issues raised during a pandemic,” said Commission chair Kim Simpson. “There are still a lot of unknown factors and we will have to make a best informed decision with what we have and trust God to guide us to do the best we can for The United Methodist Church.”
Though the rollouts of COVID-19 vaccines are encouraging, the Commission is concerned about availability around the world and the virus’ duration as they work to ensure attendee safety. In the midst of the pandemic, thee commission is working to meet all legal/policy requirements while ensuring as much global participation as possible and maintaining the integrity of the voting and credentialing processes.
Daily Christian Advocate publication concerns, given COVID-19’s impact on the publishing industry, were also discussed. Minor obvious adjustments such as date changes will be made to the Plan of Organization and Rules of Order, agenda and schedule relating to the new dates. One such adjustment example is the designation of Thursdays in Black from Thursday, May 7, 2020 to Thursday, September 2, 2021. The Thursdays in Black designated date is in solidarity with the World Council of Churches.
A Commission on the General Conference meeting is being scheduled for January to continue ongoing discussions.
Brenda Smotherman of United Methodist Communications coordinates information for the General Commission on the General Conference.