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What does ‘regionalization’ mean for the UMC?

Posted: January 2 2024 at 05:58 AM
Author: Rev. Victoria Rebeck, NIC Director of Communications

You may have heard over the past few years that the United Methodist General Conference will be voting on regionalization. What does that mean? What’s the United Methodist interest in this? 

A group of significant leaders in the UMC—the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, the Connectional Table, and the Christmas Covenant group (made up of delegates and other UM leaders from Africa, Europe, and the Philippines)—are supporting a proposal that would create four regional conferences that will each have equal power to pass legislation within their prospective regions. These would be Africa, Europe, Philippines, and the United States. 

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Why this configuration?  

 You may know that the denomination’s General Conference, which meets every four years, makes decisions for the entire worldwide UMC. Delegates from the U.S. and the “central conferences”—those in Africa, Europe, and the Philippines—all have the same voting rights to determine United Methodist policies and requirements (most of which appear in the UM Book of Discipline). 

Recognizing that some of these are more practicable in the U.S. and would not be possible or relevant in other regions of the world, the UMC constitution allows the central conferences to reject or alter decisions of the General Conference, including items in the Book of Discipline, to fit their contexts better. Thus, even though delegates from all over the world vote on official United Methodist matters, only general conferences and central conferences may adapt them. Jurisdictional and annual conferences in the U.S. may not.  

However, the regionalization proposal would allow each of the four regional conferences to establish policies and procedures that fit their own contexts, without enjoining United Methodists in other regions. United Methodists in the U.S. would have, for the first time, authority to adapt the Discipline in the same ways that every other regional conference has be able to do. 

Resources About Regionalization

Missional contexts 

Certain parts of the Book of Discipline could not be independently adapted by a regional conference. Paragraph 101 in the Discipline identifies these sections as parts I through V, which contain the constitution, paragraph 101 itself, the Doctrinal Standards and Our Theological Task, the Ministry of All Christians, and the Social Principles.  

These are the foundational elements of United Methodist polity and belief. Because “the General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional,” as the Book of Discipline says, only General Conference—delegates from all the regions—may alter parts I through V, following to the rules that now apply.  

Bishop Tom Berlin explains in a video, “We can trust each other to handle our ministry and center our priorities in ways that are relevant for the culture in the context that we’re in. When we come together as a general conference, we want to come together and do the work that benefits the whole and not waste time dealing with business and other matters that are just really focused on one part of the world.” 

Adding more information, the United Methodist Connectional Table offers a deeper reason for the proposal: it “reflects the strong values of equity, respect for contextual mission settings, effective mutuality in mission, and legislative equality for regional bodies of the church. Recognizing the effects of colonization, the guiding principle for the regionalization legislation is to empower each region to make certain context-specific decisions in real-time, without being dependent on General Conference, as well as de-centralizing the influence of the United States on General Conference.”  

The explanation adds that “the regionalization legislation puts an end to imposing cultural views of one region of the world onto another, fostering a sense of identity and belonging that’s essential in our global connection. By celebrating the diversity of our respective mission settings, regional governance offers a vibrant and hopeful vision for The United Methodist Church now and into the future." 

As Bishop Christian Alsted (Nordic-Baltic Episcopal Area) has said, the United Methodist Church has been operating as a United States church with satellites around the world. Under regionalization, all central and jurisdictional conferences will be equal participants at the table.

Information for this article came from Ask the UMC and 

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