By United Methodist News Service

How are delegates elected to the United Methodist General Conference? How many votes are required for the assembly to approve a petition? What is the role of bishops in the once-every-four-years gathering? And why is it important to keep a copy of the Daily Christian Advocate handy throughout the proceedings?

These and many other questions are answered in "Exploring General Conference," a five-session online course offered by United Methodist Communications for anyone wanting to learn more about the denomination's top legislative body and how it works.

The course is free and being offered to give people a basic working knowledge of the church's legislative process in advance of the 2008 General Conference. About 1,000 delegates will gather next April 23-May 2 in Fort Worth, Texas, to set church policy, approve a budget and speak on behalf of the denomination regarding social and moral.

"The course is ideal for anyone attending the 2008 General Conference, including communicators and delegates, as well as United Methodists interested in learning more about how the denomination makes decisions," said site administrator Cheryl A. Hemmerle.

Participants can begin the course anytime between Nov. 15 and Dec. 26 and move through the sessions at their own pace. Additional sessions will be offered from January through next May.

Launched Nov. 15, the course garnered more than 150 participants in its first three days and is expected gain momentum as General Conference approaches, Hemmerle said.

Betty Jackson signed up because she will serve as a volunteer marshal at the 2008 meeting. "I'm really excited about going," said Jackson, a member of Ebenezer United Methodist Church in New Johnsonville, Tenn. "I'm taking this course in hope it will give me an idea of what will be going on."

Arthur Sponagel is participating in "Exploring General Conference" because he wants to learn more about United Methodism. After spending most of his life in two other denominations, he has been a United Methodist since 1986.

"One thing I like about Methodism is you are expected to continue studying. I hope to learn more about how the church operates," said Sponagel of St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Las Cruces, N.M.

In addition to interactive features such as videos and quizzes, participants can participate in forums to ask questions and share ideas.

Among other things, the course includes information about:

  • The history, role and purpose of General Conference;

  • How delegates are elected, their role and responsibilities;

  • How petitions, the general church budget and other important matters are decided through General Conference;

  • Social issues facing The United Methodist Church and the denomination's stance on those issues; and

  • Highlights of the 2004 General Conference and what's ahead for 2008.

To register, visit For more information, call 888-278-4862 or e-mail

This story is based in part on research by Barbara Dunlap-Berg, an editor with United Methodist Communications.