The United Methodist Church joins together in a global denominational assembly once every four years and has been doing so since 1784, when the church was founded in America. That assembly, called General Conference, convenes again this year at the Fort Worth (Texas) Convention Center from April 23 through May 2.
United Methodists will be represented by an equal number of lay and clergy delegates elected last year during annual conferences. The North Indiana Conference will be sending 10 delegates. The South Indiana Conference will be sending 12 delegates. (See January issue.) They will be part of a legislative body numbering 992 delegates from around the world. These delegates represent the 11.5-million member church worldwide.
For those who want all the particulars of General Conference, log on to the 2008 General Conference Web site at www.gc2008.umc.org.
This legislative body represents who we are as United Methodists and sets the pace for what the church does during the next four years.
In this issue on pages 6 and 7, there is a story which outlines the highlights of the upcoming conference presented to heads of delegations and conference communicators. More than 200 delegates and communicators attended the pre-GC briefing in Forth Worth last month. I was there with the Rev. Frank Beard and Kayc Mykrantz, heads of the North Indiana Conference delegation, and the Rev. Ann Glass and Ike Williams, heads of the South Indiana Conference delegation.
The questions of many communicators including myself were:
Will this General Conference be business as usual?
Will this General Conference make a difference in the lives of United Methodists around the world?
Conference officials said, "no," to the first question. They have planned an opening day of worship and celebration. New this General Conference is an address by the youth of our denomination. In fact there will be six youth and plenty of media to inform and challenge. Planners have placed all major addresses to be given on day one of the 10-day conference. All of the plenary sessions will be streamed live in both audio and video at www.gc2008.umc.org.
Denominational leaders will not be bringing a customary four-year emphasis to rally United Methodists around a particular set of causes. Four areas of focus being proposed to lead us during an unspecified time are:
Engaging in ministry to the poor,
Stamping out killer diseases by improving global health,
Creating new places for new people by starting new congregations and renewing existing ones, and
Developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world.
Leaders expressed reality by saying, "We will only succeed if we operate in an uncommon spirit of collaboration and transcend our disagreements. We as a people must open ourselves to a new way of thinking about how we embody our faith."
That leads to my second question: Will this General Conference make a difference in the lives of United Methodists here in Indiana and around the world?
I believe what happens in Fort Worth this spring will only make a difference if United Methodist delegates take the decisions they make and the programs for which they hope and live them out in their conferences and encourage conference and congregational leaders to do the same.
We can only grow and remain vital as The United Methodist Church and faithful to our goal of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world if pastors, lay leaders and the rest of us truly open our hearts, minds and doors by inviting, welcoming and accepting all people into the life, mission and ministry of the church. We will grow if each congregation welcomes more new members than the number of members who die, become inactive or transfer their membership elsewhere.
We have so much to offer by telling our faith stories and by doing good works for the common good of all by volunteering in mission, advocating for social justice, teaching Sunday school, sponsoring youth groups and giving our financial resources in abundance, to mention a few. We must be passionate daily about our faith in response to God's love through Jesus Christ.
Hopefully, what happens in Fort Worth won't stay in Fort Worth. Otherwise in four years, we will be singing the same chorus we sing this year.
Daniel R. Gangler