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Did you know? - Methodism 101

Posted: November 29 2018 at 12:34 PM
Author: Rev. Arlene Christopherson, Ass't. to the Bishop/Dir. of Connectional Ministries

What is the difference between the College of Bishops and the Council of Bishops?  How many conferences are in a jurisdiction? What is a jurisdiction? Who votes at a General Conference? How many countries have UM congregations? How are we structured?

Most of us rarely give the structure and governance of the United Methodist Church much thought. Beyond our local church council and the work of a District Superintendent, our denominational life is vague and far removed from our day to day existence. 

As the United Methodist Church gears up for a historic special session of General Conference in February 2019 in debate of full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the church, understanding more about who we are as a denomination gives us a framework for understanding how decisions are made concerning the denomination's future.  

The UMC is the largest denomination within the wider Methodist movement of approximately 80 million people across the world. In the United States, the UMC ranks as the largest mainline Protestant denomination, the largest Protestant Church after the Southern Baptist Convention and the third largest Christian denomination. We are a twelve million member global denomination. There are United Methodist Churches in the United States, Africa, Asia, and Europe. 

The United Methodist Church has a Connectional polity, a typical feature of a number of Methodist denominations. We are organized into conferences. The highest level is called the 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 normally meets every four years to consider the business and mission of the church. The general conference is a legislative body of equal parts lay and clergy from around the globe. Northern Illinois has 3 lay and 3 clergy voting members elected in 2014 who will participate in the February special session. The clergy delegates are Rev. Alka Lyall, Rev. Gregory Gross, and Rev. Chris Pierson. The lay delegates are Lonnie Chafin, Irma Clark and Elisa Gatz (Chairperson). Reserves include: Jack Ryder, Rev. Carol Hill, Rita L. Smith, Rev. Luis Reyes, Nancy Pendergrass, and Rev. David Lagos-Fonseca.

Bishops preside at the general conference session but have no voice or vote in this body’s work. A Judicial Council (global in membership and elected by General Conference) is tasked with determining the constitutionality of any decisions made by the legislative body. Our United Methodist constitution and polity are found in the 2016 United Methodist Book of Discipline. 

The general conference has authority in matters of church law but changes to the denomination’s constitution must be ratified by each annual conference before they can be enacted. 

In Africa, Europe, and the Philippines, there are seven geographical regions, called "central conferences." There are five geographic jurisdictions, or regions, in the United States, which are comprised of eight to 15 annual conferences each.  Northern Illinois Conference is part of the North Central Jurisdiction made up of 10 conferences. 

Many online resources are available to help us know about the structure and membership of the United Methodist Church as well as resources for understanding the issues to be addressed at the special session. Learn more about the UMC by taking the online course Methodism 101 at and stay informed in the coming months as our denomination works toward a way forward. 

Resource links: 

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