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Did you know – we have a constitution?

Posted: April 28 2017 at 12:00 AM
Author: Rev. Arlene Christopherson, Assistant to the Bishop/Dir. of Connectional Ministries


The United Methodist Church as we know it today was formed in 1968. Of course we trace our roots back much, much further to the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. When two streams of Methodism were united in 1968 after more than 25 years of exploration and negotiation, The Methodist Episcopal and The Evangelical United Brethren denominations came together to form the United Methodist Church. Previously, The Evangelical Church and The United Brethren Church had merged in 1946 after 20 years of negotiation to form The Evangelical United Brethren Church. There are still churches in the Northern Illinois Conference with china patterns stamped with predecessor denominational names.

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 plays a significant role in the life of the church and are required by our Constitution, a foundational document, to be part of our structure.

The General Conference meets once every four years and among their responsibilities is voting on constitutional amendments. The General Conference in 2016 passed five new constitutional amendments, each of which must now be voted on at every annual conference across the globe in the 2017- 2018 Annual Conference season, much like the process of ratifying constitutional amendments in the United States.

Lay members and eligible clergy will vote on these amendments at our Annual Conference session, June 4-6 in St. Charles at Pheasant Run Resort and Convention Center. Since this is a global vote we will not know the outcome until sometime in 2018 when all the ballots are tallied and certified at a meeting of the college of bishops. We may debate the merits of the amendments but we are not allowed to amend them.

What do our upcoming amendments look like? They range in topic from episcopal accountability and election of Bishops, to gender equality. These amendments were submitted by a Sunday school teacher, a general commission, a lay delegate and an annual conference. These amendments grow out of the experience and best intentions of their makers and received enough votes at General Conference to put them on this path to ratification.

In brief the amendments address:

Gender equality: This amendment declares, “men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God.” It asserts that the church will “seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large.”

Inclusion in membership: This amendment would add gender, ability, age and marital status to the list of characteristics that do not bar people from membership in the church.

Delegate Elections: This amendment specifies that elections of delegates to General Conference as well Jurisdictional and Central Conference meetings will include open nominations from the floor at Annual Conference sessions.

Bishop Elections: This amendment states that Central Conferences (those outside the US) are to elect bishops at a regular session, not an extra session of the Central Conference “except where an unexpected vacancy must be filled.”

Bishop Accountability: Under this amendment, General Conference can adopt provisions for the Council of Bishops to hold individual bishops accountable.

The full text of these amendments will be in the resolutions released by May 4. If you want to learn more about the work of General Conference and the votes on these amendments you can find further information at: www.umc.org under structure.

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