Looking forward to being the church outside of the four walls of conference, the United Methodist Church’s global quadrennial gathering known as General Conference came to an end on Friday, May 20, 2016.
In addition to disruptive protests and contentious debate, the 10-day event was filled with vibrant celebrations, powerful preaching, and hopeful elections. Such moments included a great celebration for Imagine No Malaria in raising more than $68 million, a presentation which announced the release of a new downloadable song. But, immediately before the presentation, it was announced that Bishop David Kekumba Yemba (Central Congo – no relation to Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda) had just been diagnosed with malaria and was in treatment in the hospital. It was a poignant reminder of the critically important work of Imagine No Malaria.
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño (California-Pacific) was the presiding Bishop for a late afternoon session during which a person peculiarly raised a point of personal privilege. With the room waiting in anticipation, a delegate by the name of “Stefan” commented that the General Conference had been debating about rules and petitions for the past six or seven days. But, that the Conference had suddenly considered it unimportant to debate about the mission of the Church. As he began to leave the microphone, Bishop Carcaño asked Stefan to offer a prayer for the mission of the Church which he did. It was another reminder of the importance of purpose, mission, and vision in the work of the Church.
For the Cal-Pac delegation, the past 10 days became the culmination of the past several months over which the delegation held meetings. First clergy delegate Rev. Dr. Cedrick Bridgeforth (Santa Ana UMC) says, “Our delegation has been in diligent study and prayer every day [here at General Conference]. This has been important as we have become more keenly aware of the complexities of being a global church with U.S.-centric policies and concerns. We have risen to the occasion, inspired by the leading presence of Rosie Rios who had little time to fulfill the role of first lay delegate. In a word, I am grateful.”
First lay delegate Rosie Rios (Baldwin Park UMC) remarks, “It has been difficult to witness the delegates from outside of the United States experiencing much trouble with Robert’s Rules of Order with which they are unfamiliar. It is simply unfair for them. I will miss them as I was able to build community with them. Our delegation has been working hard and I am grateful for Rev. Dr. Cedrick Bridgeforth who helped me every step of the way.”
To be congratulated, in addition to the Cal-Pac delegation, is Rev. Luan-Van “Lui” Tran (Lakewood UMC) who was elected to the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church. Rev. Tran is the first Vietnamese-Swiss-American person elected to the Council. Prior to becoming a clergyperson, Rev. Tran earned a law degree from Harvard Law School and a Ph.D from McGill University and practiced law with the Swiss Justice Department. He is also fluent in English, French, German, and Vietnamese.
Perhaps the most notable actions taken at General Conference 2016 were around the issue of human sexuality. Bishop Bruce Ough (Dakotas-Minnesota), President of the Council of Bishops, addressed the Conference with news that representatives of the Council of Bishops have met with related parties on a possible re-organization of The United Methodist Church because of the issue of human sexuality. Soon afterwards, a pastoral response signed by numerous Bishops was released in response to a letter signed by LGBTQi religious leaders.
From the floor, a motion was made requesting the Council of Bishops to make a non-binding recommendation to the body as to how to move forward as a church around the issue. The next day, Bishop Ough, returned with a set of recommendations which included referring the issue to a special conference to be convened in the near future comprised of representatives throughout the denomination and a stop to all debate around the issue at General Conference 2016. After contentious debate, the conference passed the recommendations as a whole.
Other actions taken at the gathering include:
The 10 days of conferencing was a time of learning for many of the delegates present. For one thing, the global nature of the church was clearly evident in many characteristics of General Conference outside of the debate of any particular issue. Delegates realized the need to speak slowly to facilitate live interpretation. And, English-speaking delegates experienced the feeling of becoming the language minority when French was being spoken from the podium. In another instance, a member of one delegation stood with a member of another delegation to apologize for misunderstanding the actions of that delegation from another country.
This kind of learning may have been what led to a particular realization in several delegations that seemed to have made itself known in speeches here and there during General Conference: namely, that the Church ought to “try something new,” that some things “cannot be solved through legislation,” and that something must be done about the fact that we “do not trust each other.”
This realization sets the stage for the next steps for The United Methodist Church, steps for which the California-Pacific Conference will once again be ready to inspire the world as passionate followers of Jesus Christ so all may experience God’s life-giving love.
Additional news and media, including sermons and other presentations will be made available in the coming days.
Additional coverage of General Conference 2016 is available from United Methodist News Service.
CORRECTION: A previous recap incorrectly stated that Bishop Stanovsky would be the preacher of the closing service. She was the preacher for the opening service of the closing day.