We had a district clergy meeting today and we had some special guests, a clergy and lay delegate to General Conference. They shared with us their excitement and fears about GC and field questions and concerns from us. It was very enlightening and the major topic our clergy rep. was concerned about was a petition to make the UMC in the US a Central Conference or even break it up into Regional conferences. I don’t think this is news to many of you but the reasoning he gave was news to me.
He stated that the UMC in Africa is growing by leaps and bounds. With a quick Google search I picked up an article on the UMC page about the growth in Africa. Mozambique’s United Methodists, [the area this article concentrated on] who ended their annual conference session Dec. 12, reported an 8,000-person membership increase for 2004. In our meeting we were told that in the last GC the African churches brought over a million new members to our denominations. It is speculated that within the next decade or two, they will surpass the US in number of UMC members.
To throw something else in the mix, the delegates from these congregations/areas are also really conservative in their thinking and theology, once again according to our GC Clergy Rep. There are people within the denomination that wish the UMC to move forward in some more liberal thinking and that has been stopped by the African delegation. With their drastic increase in numbers they will be the majority voice at GC in no time and will continue to push a more conservative view.
Another interesting fact about liberals and conservatives for you. Out of all the US’s jurisdictions the Southeast is considered to be the most conservative. When the SEJ and the African UMCs get together at GC they make up 53% of the delegation. That is a strong conservative voice already.
With this all said, the petition is set to make the US a central conference and we would be able to make our own rules, views, and so forth without the input from the rest of the world/Central Conferences. The other idea is to make the Jurisdictions regional conferences which would allow them to make the rules for those specific areas within the US.
These two petitions test the idea that we are a global church. We no longer are confined to our US boarders. The UMC is spreading all over the world and we should celebrate that fact. I am excited that our church is growing in Africa and other places by leaps and bounds. It is truly thrilling.
But these petitions bring up a couple of questions for me. Are these petitions simply a way to keep the power here within the US? Is this a reaction to the fact that soon, Africa could dictate what happens in America’s UMC? Will people be comfortable and willing to let that happen? Does it scare white American UMCs to be governed by a black African UMC majority? Wouldn’t going to regional conferences simply be going back in time to the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church South? Does this mean that we would have UMC South, East, North and West churches ALL over the US? Is it this really an attempt to let the church split quietly over issues like homosexuality?
I think this may be the most important decision the GC makes. It implications of being a Global Church may hang in the balance. It truly is getting difficult to be in the extreme center and is that where God is calling us as a denomination still to be?