In response to the further postponement of the 2020 General Conference, the Council of Bishops (COB) is calling a Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church (UMC) to be convened online on May 8, 2021.According to the call letter signed by COB President Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, the Special Session will be held in accordance with Division Two – Section II – Article II of The Constitution of The United Methodist Church as recorded in Paragraph ¶14 of The Book of Discipline (2016).
The purpose of the 2021 Special Session of the General Conference will be limited to gaining a quorum in order to suspend the rules for the sole purpose of allowing the use of paper ballots to act upon 12 pieces of legislation that would enable the church to effectively continue its work until the postponed 2020 General Conference is held in 2022. While other potential amendments were considered, it was agreed that these 12 pieces of legislation would enable the church to continue its administrative functions appropriately. Click here to read the 12 pieces of legislation.
All decisions will be limited to paper ballots and confined to the designated twelve (12) amendments to the Book of Discipline in order to fulfill the mandate of ¶511.4.d., which calls for the Commission on the General Conference “to assure full participation of all General Conference delegates,… ”
Bishop Harvey stated, “The exclusive use of paper ballots will allow for the fullest participation of delegates from across the denomination. Full participation on the part of all elected delegates is a justice issue that must not be ignored or sacrificed. This is why the convened session online must be confined solely to gaining permission for the mailed in paper ballots.”
The decision to call the Special Session came in conjunction with the Commission on the General Conference’s announcement of a further postponement of the 2020 General Conference to August 2022. The General Conference had been previously postponed to August 2021 due the COVID-19 pandemic. It is now scheduled to take place August 29 to September 6, 2022, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Click here to read the Commission’s announcement.
“Our current Book of Discipline was never written with a worldwide pandemic in mind. When we became aware of the need for a further postponement, we knew that some action needed to be taken in order to free the church to operate and continue to fulfill its current mission until we could gather in person,” Bishop Harvey stated, noting that substantive issues related to separation and regionalization should be reserved to an in-person forum where debate, amendment, and discernment could be conducted with integrity and full participation.
The Council of Bishops and the Commission on the General Conference have been working collaboratively to determine the best way for the General Conference to meet and maintain the Church’s current commitment to mission and ministry as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Constitution of the Church, the Special Session of the General Conference shall be composed of the delegates elected to the postponed 2020 General Conference or their lawful successors.
The Secretary of the General Conference will communicate with annual conference secretaries regarding the logistics of the Special Session.
In addition, The Council of Bishops and the Commission on the General Conference have agreed on a timeline of events that will create a pathway for the church in this liminal time. This timeline includes Special Sessions of the Jurisdictional Conferences to be held virtually in July 2021 (for the purpose of retiring bishops, announcing coverage of areas, and determining if or how many bishops will be elected in each Jurisdiction) and regular in-person Sessions of the Jurisdictional Conferences following the postponed 2020 General Conference in the Fall of 2022 (for the purpose of electing bishops, making assignments for the new quadrennium, electing members to General Boards/Agencies, etc.).
Under this timeline, General Boards & Agencies would maintain their current memberships until after the postponed General Conference in 2022.
Click here to read the full letter sent to the Secretary of the General Conference, the Chairperson of the Commission on the General Conference, heads of delegations to the 2020 General Conference (or successors) and conference secretaries.
Rev. Dr. Maidstone Mulenga
Director of Communications – Council of Bishops