Some of you have probably heard that the Commission on the General Conference announced in March that the 2020 General Conference cannot be held in 2022 due to COVID-related and governmental policies/constraints and the next General Conference will be held in 2024. The United Methodist Church is a global denomination, with faithful disciples all over the world. This makes our quadrennial meetings a very big endeavor with lots of moving pieces and a global pandemic has made this even more challenging. We are certain that the decision to postpone once again was an exceedingly difficult one. There are many factors to consider — including visas and passports, the health and safety of delegates, volunteers and other attendees, vaccination rates, and the need for provisions for quarantine or medical care should any delegates contract COVID-19.
Any news of General Conference brings with it a level of anxiety for United Methodists. We are rightfully concerned about the future of the United Methodist Church and any decisions that will be made at General Conference. We have heard people say that they feel like we are in an indefinite holding pattern. And while we understand the sentiment, we would like challenge that thought.
At Bethel we aren’t going around and around in circles with no place to go. Instead, we are experiencing a congregation emerge from a pandemic with renewed life and excitement for the future. As our Lenten theme has been reminding us, we are full to the brim with God’s grace and goodness. And the entire Spartanburg community has the opportunity to benefit from the overflow of grace in our lives.
There will come a day when Bethel has to respond to the decisions that will made at General Conference in 2024. But today is not that day. Today we have the opportunity to support our church, Bethel UMC, in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. So, we are choosing to let our anxiety about General Conference fade. We are choosing to face the future unafraid. Not out of avoidance, but because even though we may not know what the future holds we know who holds the future.
Pastor Megan and Pastor Brad
Below are some answers to some frequently asked questions and links to websites and articles that might be helpful.
The answers below are based upon information we know as of March 8, 2022. The delay in General Conference has proven that we are in unprecedented times and answers could change depending on various circumstances.
Q: Why was the General Conference postponed again?
A: The Commission on the General Conference made the decision to postpone General Conference 2020 until 2024 due to the ongoing pandemic and long processing time of obtaining visas for delegates from outside of the United States. A virtual option had been considered previously but was rejected due to the 16-hour span of time zones, unreliable internet, and challenges to safeguarding the voting. You can read more from the Commission on the General Conference here.
Q: Why would the Commission on General Conference not schedule a General Conference session before 2024?
A: It takes the commission years to plan a General Conference. With the 2020 session being postponed again, the commission will start over with planning such as securing dates, location, hotel blocks, international visas, etc. International delegate pandemic/vaccination issues and the backlog of visas were a major hindrance to this process.
Q: When will a new date be announced?
A: The commission has already secured a venue for what would have been the regularly scheduled quadrennial event. An announcement about the location will be forthcoming as soon as the required logistical planning is complete. The event will be in 2024.
Q: Will Bethel UMC need to conduct a vote?
A: Not at this time. All United Methodist Churches are still under the legislation that was approved at the 2019 Special General Conference session and the 2016 Book of Discipline. We are living into the spirit of the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, which is not only a way of separation, but the way we live together in the interim.
Q: I’m concerned about the uncertainty in the UMC and what the policies could be related to marriages in my local church. How do I know what the future UMC will look like?
A: Local church has autonomy on how church property is used as well as a clergy’s authority to determine at what weddings he/she officiates has not changed.
Q: Will the South Carolina Annual Conference elect new delegates for 2024?
A: Since the 2020 General Conference was postponed, it is our understanding that the delegates elected at the 2019 session of Annual Conference will continue to serve in this capacity. In the commission’s press release, Rev. Gary Graves, chair, states, “We will need to look to the Judicial Council for clarity regarding which preparations and processes are based on the postponed 2020 General Conference and which would need to be enacted should this be seen as a new 2024 General Conference.” We will communicate any updates we receive.
Q: Will we be able to have a Jurisdictional Conference before 2024 to elect new bishops?
A: There are ongoing discussions about this possibility, but that decision has not yet been made.
Q: How will this decision affect the meeting of our South Carolina Annual Conference?
A: This decision has no impact on the meeting of our Annual Conference. The 2022 South Carolina Annual Conference will open June 5 as an all-virtual session to ensure the health and safety of all participants amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We will continue to prioritize the mission and ministry of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Faithful Ways to Respond
- Holy Discernment – With plans not working out the way some had hoped, there will be increased confusion, anxiety, and pressure to act. However, there is no need to give into this pressure. While it is frustrating, there is nothing that has changed in the UM denomination. Everything is still on pause, so there is no internal change causing churches to exit out of the denomination ahead of the General Conference. The wisest course of action may be to hold the course and let General Conference provide a path and process for churches to discern their best path forward.
- #BeUMC Campaign – For those who would like more information about the continuing UMC, #BEUMC celebrates the core values and four foundations themes that connect the people of The United Methodist Church. It is built upon the stories of people living their faith around the world. Check out this website for more information.