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May 10, 2000 GC-056

Delegates gut restructure proposal, but keep guiding principles

CLEVELAND (UMNS) — A massive plan to restructure the United Methodist hierarchy was whittled down to a few paragraphs by delegates of the 2000 General Conference.

By a vote of 784 to 144, top decision-makers of the United Methodist Church rebuffed the 53-page report and recommendations of the Connectional Process Team (CPT), and basically agreed to maintain the denomination’s current structure.

The four-year study group had proposed: creating a global governing body of the church, of which the U.S. church would be a sub-unit; doing away with the General Council on Ministries (GCOM); and creating "covenant councils" at all levels of the church to guide the mission and life of the denomination.

Instead, General Conference delegates affirmed on May 10 only the broad "transformational directions" the study team had recommended, and referred those to the GCOM, which is the program coordinating body for churchwide work. The transformational directions ask the church at all levels to:

Center on Christian formation.

Call forth covenant leadership

Empower the connection for ministry.

Strengthen global and ecumenical dialogue and relationships.

Encourage dialogue around church doctrine and theological understanding.

In a separate action, delegates also agreed to set up a churchwide body to do planning and research and to evaluate the emerging needs of the church. The new entity would also do specific research for the central conferences (regional units outside the United States). The action provides for a gathering of researchers and church leaders whose work would inform the actions of future General Conferences. The original CPT report had also recommended research and ongoing study of congregational and churchwide needs.

These actions by the General Conference are the culmination of a four-year process during which the CPT met with church leaders and grass-roots members, considered the denomination’s heritage and mission, and studied the challenges facing the church in an increasingly global context. More than 1.2 million United Methodists live in the central conferences in Europe, Africa and Asia. U.S. membership stands at about 8.4 million.

The 38-member CPT cost the church $660,000 during its four years of work.

The team’s proposals sought to make United Methodists outside the United States more equal players in church leadership by creating a Global Conference to replace the General Conference, the top legislative body. The U.S. church would have become a geographic central conference under the CPT plan.

But the proposal was met with resistance from church leaders in the months leading up to the May 2-12 legislative session. By the time the proposal went to legislative committee, many church watchers agreed it was dead on arrival.

In recommending the severely slimmed down "Living into the Future" petition, including the transformational directions, delegate Tom Jackson of Watkinsville, Ga., said he objected to the "top-down, radical changes" and "imposition of structure" in the original CPT report. Still, he affirmed the general directions that had guided the team’s work.

Mary Brooke Casad, a North Texas laywoman tried to resurrect a centerpiece of the team’s work with an amendment to replace the GCOM and create a "transformational leadership team," which would bring new recommendations on structure to the 2004 General Conference.

Another member of her delegation, the Rev. Scott Jones, agreed. "I yearn for a church that is more effective and more global than it is now," Jones said. "Do we trust an agency that has been around for 28 years and which has an investment in the status quo to lead us to renewal?" (The current church structure and its agencies — including the GCOM -- were created in 1972.)

In the end, however, delegates seemed to agree with the Rev. David Severe, executive

director of the Local Church Ministries Council/Congregational Development Office of the Oklahoma Annual Conference.

"The General Council on Ministries is the only agency with representatives from every annual conference," Severe said. "We need the centrality of that kind of grass-roots representation to guide our future mission."

Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher of the Illinois Area served as chairwoman of the CPT.

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--M. Garlinda Burton

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