WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Council of Bishops (COB) of The United Methodist Church is petitioning the denomination’s top court for clarification on its recent decision regarding the General Conference that will be held in 2024.
The church’s court, known as the Judicial Council, ruled last month in Judicial Council Decision 1451 that the General Conference session to be held in 2024 is the postponed 2020 General Conference.
While the COB appreciates the clarity and guidance on that issue, the bishops feel that the decision has generated a number of other questions that arise from the language of the decision, and the COB therefore was petitioning the Judicial Council for clarification of the decision on four limited questions.
The bishops made the decision to seek clarification during a special session of the COB meeting held via Zoom on Friday, January 6, 2023.
Here are the four questions on which the bishops are seeking clarification:
- Question for Clarification No. 1: If an annual conference has vacancies in its General Conference delegation due to death, resignation, or otherwise, does JCD 1451 allow an annual conference to hold elections to fill the vacancies that have not already been filled by its reserve delegates?
- Question for Clarification No. 2: If a person was elected as a lay or clergy delegate for the postponed 2020 General Conference and that person’s status as a lay or clergy person has changed since election by the annual conference, do ¶¶ 34-36 of the 2016 Book of Discipline require that the delegate be declared ineligible to serve as a delegate in the status as elected and thereby creating a vacancy to be filled by the election of a new lay or clergy delegate if there is no reserve delegate to fill the vacancy?
- Question for Clarification No. 3: In regard to delegates who were elected from two previous annual conferences for the postponed 2020 General Conference that have since merged, (a) which delegates previously elected are eligible to serve at the postponed 2020 General Conference; and (b) if the merged annual conference is entitled to fewer delegates, what is the process under the Discipline for determining who among those previously elected is eligible to serve, including the date for determination of the delegates?
- Question for Clarification No. 4: Based on the holding in JCD 1451, is the Commission on the General Conference required to schedule and make arrangements pursuant to ¶ 511.4 for a session of the General Conference to occur in the quadrennium after the adjournment of the postponed 2020 General Conference in 2024 and before December 31, 2027?
The bishops are asking for an expedited hearing in the matter.
“Our request for clarification is to simply ask for specific clarification so that our work, both in the Annual Conferences and the General Church, can function with uniformity and alignment. Our work in these specific areas needs to be conducted in a manner that is consistent across the church,” said COB President Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton of New York Area.
In another matter, the COB voted last month during the December 21, 2022 meeting to request a declaratory decision regarding Paragraph 413 of the 2016 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.
The requested decision pertains to how Council of Bishops holds its individual members accountable for their work, both as general superintendents and as presidents and residents in episcopal areas.
Rev. Dr. Maidstone Mulenga, Director of Communications for the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church