METHODIST FEDERATION FOR SOCIAL ACTION, CALIFORNIA-PACIFIC AFFILIATE
General Conference 2008
GENERAL CONFERENCE

General Conference: An Overview
Excerpts from UM Communications Media Guide for GC 2008
(with some formatting changes)

Contents:
The Site, Main Tasks, Key People, Sources of Legislation,
Legislative Committees and their assigned topics,
and Special Events (invited speakers, etc.)


The United Methodist Church’s top
legislative body, the General Conference,
gathered April 23-May 2 in Fort Worth,
Texas. Nine hundred and ninety-two dele-
gates from around the world have set policy
and direction for the church, as well as handling
other business. General Conference is the
only entity that speaks for The United
Methodist Church.


The theme of the conference was
“A Future with Hope.”

Sites for the international gatherings, held
every four years, are rotated among the
church’s five regional U.S. jurisdictions. The
2008 assembly was in the South Central
Jurisdiction.

The 2008 conference was planned by
the 17-member Commission on the General
Conference, led by the Rev. Gail Murphy-
Geiss of Centennial, Colo. A local committee
from the Central Texas Annual Conference,
under the leadership of Bishop Benjamin
Chamness, hosted the event. The Rev.
Allen Goss was chairperson of the Host Com-
mittee. Some 4,000 people served in a
variety of volunteer roles such as greeters,
registration officials, marshals, pages,
translators, hosts and hostesses, guides, drivers,
musicians, technicians, reporters and
emergency-response volunteers.

The projected cost of the 2008 session was $6.6
million, compared with $4.1 million for the
2000 conference and $5.3 million for the 2004
session. Three percent of the cost is for com-
mittee functions and Commission on General
Conference expenses; 9 percent covers the
cost of the offices of the business manager,
treasurer and secretary of the General
Conference; 24 percent is for operations;
18 percent for language services; and 46
percent for delegate expenses.

About $1.6 million of the total $6.6 million
pays for delegate travel, and $1.4 million
funds the cost of housing and food (each dele-
gate will be given $118 per diem). The Daily
Christian Advocate costs $265,000, and the
computerized petitions-tracking
system is $230,000. Renting the conven-
tion center is expected to total $99,000.

THE SITE
When General Conference convened in
Fort Worth, The United Methodist Church
celebrated its 40th anniversary 30 miles from its
1968 birthplace in the Dallas Convention Cen-
ter. On April 23, 1968, the 10.3
million-member Methodist Church and the
750,000-member Evangelical United Brethren
Church merged to become The United
Methodist Church. The assembly also created
a churchwide Commission on Religion
and Race and a Commission on Archives
and History.

The site for General Conference is rotated
among the church’s five geographic U.S.
jurisdictions. Since 1968, the conferences have
been held in the following cities:
1968 Dallas (uniting conference)
1970 St. Louis (special session)
1972 Atlanta
1976 Portland, Ore.
1980 Indianapolis
1984 Baltimore
1988 St. Louis
1992 Louisville, Ky.
1996 Denver
2000 Cleveland
2004 Pittsburgh
The 2012 General Conference will meet in
Tampa, Fla.


MAIN TASKS AT GENERAL CONFERENCE
During the 10-day session, 992 delegates
revised The Book of Discipline, which regulates
the manner in which local churches, annual
conferences and general agencies are organized.

The book sets policies regarding church
membership, ordination, administration,
property and judicial procedures. The assembly
may modify most disciplinary paragraphs
by majority vote, but the Constitution can only be
amended by a two-thirds affirmative vote, followed by a two-thirds affirmative vote of the aggregate number of members voting in annual conference session. Delegates may not revoke or change the Articles of Religion or the Confession of Faith unless two-thirds of the delegates agree to change this provision and three-fourths of the annual conference members also agree.

Delegates revised The Book of Resolutions, a
volume declaring the church’s stance on a variety
of social justice issues. The book contains more
than 300 resolutions that are considered instructive and persuasive, but are not binding on members.

In addition, the assembly approved plans
and budgets for churchwide programs for the
next four years and elected members of the
Judicial Council and the University Senate.


KEY PEOPLE
Delegates: Equal numbers of lay and
clergy delegates are selected from each annual
conference. Every annual conference is guar-
anteed one lay and one clergy delegate.
Just as the U.S. Congress redistricts every
10 years following a national census, the
number of lay and clergy delegates assigned
from each annual conference changes each
quadrennium based on the number of lay and
clergy members. The total number of
delegates is limited to 1,000.

The 2008 conference will had an increased
number of delegates from outside the US.
Groups of churches in Africa, Asia and
Europe are known as “central conferences.”
Central conferences had 278 delegates,
up 100 from the 2004 assembly and up 136
from the gathering in 2000. One hundred
eighty-six of the central conference delegates
were from Africa, up 94 from 2004. The 21
annual conferences in the Philippines
had 42 delegates. An additional 10 delegates
came from “concordat” churches with
which the denomination has a formal rela-
tionship: four from Great Britain and two
each from Puerto Rico, Mexico and the
Caribbean & the Americas. The United
Methodist Church has special covenant rela-
tionships with the Methodist traditions in
those countries.

Bishops: Retired and active bishops attend
the conference but do not vote and may not
speak in plenary sessions without permission
from the assembly. Individual bishops pre-
side over business sessions, normally serving
for one morning, afternoon or evening period.
All bishops, active and retired, attend the
entire conference. Presiding bishops are
selected by a General Conference committee.
Each bishop selects a bishop to serve as a
parliamentarian.

Conference officials: Secretary of the
General Conference was the Rev. L. Fitzgerald
“Gere” Reist, a clergy member of the Central
Pennsylvania Annual Conference. Business
manager of the conference was the Rev. Alan J.
Morrison, a staff executive with the General
Council on Finance and Administration.

Judicial Council: If questions related to
constitutionality emerge during the confer-
ence, the nine-member United Methodist
Judicial Council meet and make a deci-
sion. [Prior to this General Conference,] President of the council was Dr. James
Holsinger of Lexington, Ky. The delegates
meeting in Fort Worth will elected the 2009-2012
members of the Judicial Council, the
denomination’s supreme court.

Musicians: Marcia McFee of Truckee, Calif.,
and Mark Miller of Plainfield, N.J., were
selected by the Commission on the General
Conference to serve as co-music directors.

McFee is the principal of Peace by Peace
Productions, where she serves as a consultant
on worship, arts and preaching. She has
preached, taught and led worship at numerous
United Methodist gatherings in the United
States, Europe and Asia.

Miller is director of music and instructor
of church music at Drew Theological School,
Madison, N.J. He also serves as minister of
music at Covenant United Methodist Church,
Plainfield, and is a lecturer at the Institute
of Sacred Music at Yale University,
New Haven, Conn.

Other participants: About 2,500 visitors
attend during the 10-day meeting.
That includes all members of the General
Council on Finance and Administration and
the Connectional Table. Chief executive
officers of the 13 general church agencies
also attend.

SOURCES OF LEGISLATION
Primary sources of legislation are petitions
and proposals from church agencies and
organizations. Petitions must be submitted
150 days before the opening of the conference.
Any organization, ordained minister
or lay member of the church may petition
the General Conference. More than 1,600
pieces of legislation are expected at the 2008
assembly.

As in the U.S. Congress, the bulk of General
Conference business is conducted in legisla-
tive committees. Each committee receives
petitions and proposals, debates them, and
determines whether to approve, amend,
combine or reject them for recommendation
to the full body of General Conference.
All proposed legislation — from individuals,
organizations, churchwide agencies and
annual conferences — is printed in the
Advance Daily Christian Advocate.

LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEES
Petitions from individuals, local churches,
annual conferences and general agencies are
given numbers and assigned to one of 13
legislative committees. Each delegate serves
on a committee, and delegates spend most of
the first four days in committee meetings.

Each legislative committee deals with

petitions related to series of paragraphs from
The Book of Discipline. Petitions related to The
Book of Resolutions are sorted by subject.
A legislative committee can recommend to
adopt, reject or refer a petition to a General
Conference plenary session. That recommen-
dation is called a “calendar item."

All 13 legislative committees of the General
Conference meet in the convention
center. The meetings are open to all, including
media representatives, though space may be
limited. The names of people serving on each
legislative committee can be found in the
Handbook for Delegates volume of the
Advance Edition of the Daily Christian Advocate.

The committees review, sort and refine
legislative proposals. No action is final until
taken by the General Conference in plenary
session. Progress reports from each committee
will appear in the next day’s issue of the Daily
Christian Advocate.

The 13 committees and their assigned topics:

1) Church and Society 1
This committee will receive all petitions and
resolutions relating to the work and concerns
of the Board of Church and Society and
the Social Principles, with the exception of
paragraphs in The Book of Discipline dealing
with the nurturing community and the
social community.

2) Church and Society 2
All petitions and resolutions relating to the
nurturing community and the social commu-
nity sections of the Social Principles will be
referred to this committee.

3) Conferences
This committee shall receive all petitions
and resolutions relating to the composition
and activities of the General, jurisdictional,
annual, provisional, missionary and
district conferences.

4) Discipleship
All petitions and resolutions relating to the
work and concerns of the Board of Disciple-
ship shall be referred to this committee.
 
5) Faith and Order
All petitions relating to Doctrinal Standards
and Our Theological Task, the Ministry of All
Christians and the meaning of ordination and
conference membership will be referred to
this committee.

6) Financial Administration
This committee shall receive all petitions and
resolutions relating to the work and concerns
of the Council on Finance and Administration,
the Board of Pension and Health Benefits,
and the United Methodist Publishing House.
The budget and recommendations prepared
by the General Council on Finance and
Administration shall be submitted to this
committee for study and review. Thereafter,
when the General Council on Finance and
Administration presents its report to the
General Conference for action, the committee
shall present its recommendations and may
propose amendments.

7) General Administration
Petitions and resolutions relating to the work
and concerns of the Connectional Table shall
be referred to this committee. The report of
the Connectional Table shall be submitted to
this committee for study and review. After
the Connectional Table presents its report to
the General Conference for action, the com-
mittee shall present its recommendations and
may propose amendments.
 
8) Global Ministries
All petitions and resolutions relating to the
work and concerns of the Board of Global
Ministries shall be referred to this committee.

9) Independent Commissions
This committee shall receive all petitions
and resolutions relating to commissions and
ecumenical concerns. The commissions
include Archives and History, Christian Unity
and Interreligious Concerns, Communications,
Religion and Race, the Status and Role
of Women, and United Methodist Men.
Ecumenical concerns relate to the denomina-
tion’s membership in or relationship with
the World Methodist Council, the National
Council of Churches, other councils and
consultations of churches, and the American
Bible Society.

10) Judicial Administration
All petitions and resolutions relating to
judiciary concerns and investigations, trials
and appeals are handled by this committee.

11) Local Church
This committee will receive all petitions
and resolutions relating to the organization
of the local church and its membership, pro-
grams, boards, councils, commissions and
committees. The committee will also consider
petitions relating to local church property.

12) Ministry and Higher Education
All petitions and resolutions relating to the
work and concerns of ordained ministries,
higher education, seminaries, and the Division
of Chaplaincy and Related Ministries of the
Board of Higher Education and Ministry shall
be referred to this committee.

13) Superintendency
Petitions and resolutions relating to the
work and concerns of superintendents shall be
referred to this committee.

In addition, a Commission on Central
Conference Affairs handles legislative
proposals affecting central conferences.
Recommendations by a legislative committee
emerging the first week of the conference
are just that — recommendations. No action
is final until the entire General Conference
approves it. Most final actions are taken
during the second week of the conference.
Only the General Conference speaks officially
for the denomination.

If legislation involving funding is approved
by a plenary session, that action is referred
to the General Council on Finance and Admin-
istration (GCFA) and the Connectional Table
(or their executive committees or expenditure
review groups) for their advice and review.

The groups bring the legislation back to

the assembly with specific recommendations
about sources and amounts. When GCFA
and the Connectional Table present their
report, the Financial Administration Legislative
Committee presents its own recommenda-
tions and may propose amendments to these
recommendations. Only after the conference
takes action on this funding proposal does the
legislation take effect.

If a proposed change in the Constitution is
approved by two-thirds of the General Con-
ference delegates, that action must be ratified
by a two-thirds affirmative vote of the aggre-
gate number of annual conference members
voting at their yearly gatherings.

A proposal
to alter one of the Articles of
Religion or the
Confession of Faith requires
a three-fourths
majority of annual conference members. No changes may take place until approval is announced by the Council of Bishops.

Most legislation becomes effective Jan. 1,
2009, unless the legislation specifically
includes another date.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The rules of General Conference are
approved by delegates prior to any legislative
actions. Rules proposed by the Committee on
Plan of Organization and Rules of Order will
call for legislative committee calendar items
with fewer than 10 negative votes to be
placed on a “consent calendar.” If an item is
not removed by a written request of 20 dele-
gates, and if it does not involve funding or a
constitutional amendment, the entire consent
calendar is approved with a single vote.
General Conference may change the specific
rules related to the consent calendar, but
the process enables the assembly to quickly
deal with hundreds of legislative proposals.

The Commission on General Conference is
suggesting that, in the future, individuals
should be allowed to submit their petitions
only through local church charge conferences
or other denominational organizations. A
similar request was defeated by the 2004 gath-
ering. The United Methodist Church is the
only denomination allowing individuals to
petition their legislative assembly.


SPECIAL EVENTS
The Commission on the General
Conference invited two United Methodist
presidents–George W. Bush of the United States
and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia
to address the assembly.

Bush and his wife, Laura, are members
of Highland Park United Methodist Church in
Dallas, where both taught Sunday school prior
to his election. He is the third Methodist to
serve as U.S. president. The others
were William McKinley (1897-1901) and
Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881).

Johnson Sirleaf is an active member of
First United Methodist Church in Monrovia,
Liberia. Before her inauguration ceremony in
January 2006, she participated in a worship
service led by Liberian United Methodist
Bishop John Innis and Bishop Peter Weaver of
Boston, who was then president of the Council
of Bishops.

The United Methodist Church has

been active in Liberia since 1822, and it is the
largest Protestant denomination in the West
African nation. In 1977, Liberian Bishop Bennie
D. Warner was chosen to be vice president of
the country.

Johnson Sirleaf was scheduled to speak to
General Conference April 29. She also
accepted the Bishop James K. and Eunice Mathews Bridge-Building Award from the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns at a dinner
that evening.

In 2004, President Bush and Macedonia
President Boris Trajkovski were invited to
address the conference. Bush was unable
to appear, and Trajkovski, who had been
scheduled to address the delegates, died in
a plane crash earlier that year. In 1996, then-
U.S. first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, a
United Methodist, addressed the General Con-
ference in Denver.

The conference opened Wednesday,
April 23, with a Service of Holy Communion
at 6 p.m.

The Episcopal Address - by Illinois Area Bishop
Sharon Brown Christopher. The title will be,
“The Foundation for Hope.”

The Laity Address - by
Lyn Powell, lay leader of the North Georgia
Conference and president of the Southeastern
Jurisdiction’s lay leader association. The title
of her speech as approved by the annual
conference lay leaders: ”Disciples
Transforming the World.”

Six United Methodists ranging in age from
15 to 28 were chosen to develop and
deliver the first Young People’s Address:
“Many Voices, One Call", a 45-minute presenta-
tion on the concerns, hopes and dreams of
young people. The speakers: Becca Farnum
of Mount Pleasant, Mich.; Kira Volkova of
Kirov, Russia; the Rev. Annie Arnoldy of
Grand Junction, Colo.; Andrew Craig of Den-
ver; Matt Lockett of Seattle; and Jason Rathod
of Hastings, Neb. The six were selected from
37 individuals and youth groups that submit-
ted video related to youth and young adult
issues in the church.

Many bishops spoke in Fort Worth area
churches on the Sunday before the gathering.

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