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Leadership body reconsiders restructuring plan (UM News)

April 28, 2023

The United Methodist leadership body that coordinates the denomination’s mission and ministry is going back to the drawing board in its plan to be both smaller and more global.

At an April 27 online meeting, Connectional Table members — by a 66% margin — voted to reconsider legislation to change its board composition. 

The Connectional Table is asking its board-makeup committee to develop a new proposal that includes at least some agency presidents as well as representatives from caucus groups outside the U.S. 

But the leadership body still hopes to submit legislation to next year’s General Conference that, if approved, will lead to a more nimble and more internationally representative Connectional Table. 

Time is of the essence, said Bishop Mande Muyombo, the Connectional Table’s chair. The Connectional Table plans to take up the proposed legislation again in July. Petitions to the coming General Conference are due Sept. 6.  

“We may not achieve all that we want,” said Muyombo, who leads the North Katanga Area that encompasses parts of Congo and Tanzania. “But I hope that we will trust the committee after receiving your insights to refine the work and approve something that we can send. It may not be perfect, but let’s be mindful that we need a result before the deadline.”

The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, describes the Connectional Table as “where ministry and money are brought to the same table” to coordinate the denomination’s mission, ministries and resources. 

The leadership body coordinates the work of general agencies, and it works with the General Council on Finance and Administration, the denomination’s finance agency, in drafting the budget that will go before General Conference. The leadership body also collaborates with the Council of Bishops in discerning a vision for the denomination and works on emerging challenges.

Since the Connectional Table’s formation in 2004, the preponderance of its 64 members has come from the United States, even as the church’s membership has grown more international. The denomination has seen most of its growth in Africa.

But in February, the leadership body approved a proposal to change that. It would reduce the Connectional Table from a 64-member board with 49 voting members to a 47-member board with 32 voting members. 

Under that plan, voting members would include six bishops, five representatives of racial-ethnic caucuses and five members each from Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. Members with voice but not vote would include all the top executives of the denomination’s agencies, the secretary of the General Conference and two ecumenical partners.

A significant change is that the plan eliminates the presidents of board agencies as board members. Most agency boards have chosen U.S. bishops as their presidents.

“Our rationale in doing that is to help the Connectional Table be more worldwide in its focus and not be quite so agency-focused,” said the Rev. Amy Coles, co-chair of the board-makeup committee. She is also assistant to the bishop in the Western North Carolina Conference. 

She added that one of the Connectional Table’s mandates is to evaluate agencies, and having agency presidents as voting members could sometimes cause a conflict of interest.

“We wanted to have less members but also change the focus to be more worldwide where we do look at the mission and vision of the whole church,” she said. 

However, the lack of board presidents became a sticking point when the Connectional Table took up the legislative language for the proposal at its April 27 meeting. 

Newly elected Bishop Héctor A. Burgos Núñez, who just joined the Connectional Table as the Discipleship Ministries president, raised “deep concerns” about the change.

“In my view, it limits the capacity of the CT of truly being a global coordinating body,” said Burgos, who leads the Upper New York Conference. “Agencies, for the most part, have global mandates so removing the presidents limits the capacity of truly being a coordinating body amongst our denomination.”

Other Connectional Table members echoed Burgos’ objections to the elimination of board presidents. 

Benedita Penicela Nhambiu, a Connectional Table member from Mozambique, raised another worry about the legislation. She noted that the denomination’s six ethnic caucuses, due to how they developed, are all U.S. based. 

“But outside the U.S., there are also some groups that could have a desire to influence the conversation of the Connectional Table,” she said. Nhambiu suggested the Connectional Table consider adding some of those groups’ representatives to its roster.

The conversation culminated in the Rev. Lyssette N. Perez bringing the motion for the Connectional Table to reconsider and send its comments for the consideration of the committee drafting the legislation. 

“We still have a little time before the submission,” said Perez, who is the president of MARCHA, the denomination’s Hispanic and Latino caucus. “But I think it’s extremely important that we consider what has been said.” 

While the restructuring plan remains a work in progress, the Connectional Table took other actions at its April 27 meeting. 

The leadership body:

  • Approved the sale of the Nashville, Tennessee, building previously used by the Commission on United Methodist Men. The men’s agency is now sharing offices with United Methodist Communications, which provides space rent-free. 
  • Approved using $80,000 in World Service Contingency Funds to support a request by the four bishops in the Democratic Republic of Congo to provide civic and voter education as the country plans for presidential and National Assembly elections. The agencies collaborating on the project are Church and Society, Global Ministries, Higher Education and Ministry as well as the commissions on Religion and Race and the Status and Role of Women. The goal is to ensure free, democratic, credible, transparent and peaceful elections in a country that first saw a peaceful transition of power in 2018. 
  • Learned that the Connectional Table has begun conversations with United Methodist Communications to serve its communications needs. Dave Nuckols, the Connectional Table’s treasurer, commended United Methodist Communications for its work in supporting other agencies in the denomination as well.