Report from General Conference 2024

The United Methodist Church is changing

The atmosphere at the 2024 General Conference has been completely different from what we have experienced for decades. There has not been conflicts, no harsh words and only very few demonstrations. This General Conference was both willing and able to make significant forward-oriented decisions and work together to find common solutions.

A new church

The General Conference of the United Methodist Church, the top legislative body of the church, has surprisingly, quickly and with significant majority adopted a plan for regionalization that changes the denomination from being an American church with branches in different parts of the world to becoming a global church where all regions  of the church function on an equal level. From a European perspective, the biggest changes are in the understanding of the church and the fact that the church's General Conference in the future will be focused exclusively on common global issues, common mission, education, relief, ecumenism, theology, social ethics and political issues, etc. The church in Africa, Asia and Europe has long had the authority to adapt the church order to their context - in the future there will be a wider framework and the opportunity for adaptation will apply throughout the church.

However, there the new legislation is not fully approved yet, as the change involves constitutional amendments that must be voted on by all annual conferences before they can take effect. We will therefore have to wait until November 2025 before we know if regionalization has passed.

Human sexuality

The General Conference has also made a number of decisions that change the church's understanding of human sexuality and how we can be church with all people.

The conference has decided:

- That each central conference has the authority to set policies and boundaries regarding marriage and the ordination and licensing of elders, deacons, and local pastors, and that they may delegate the same authority to the individual annual conferences. Thus, there will be room for parallel views and practices.

- That sexual orientation will not determine if a person can become an elder, deacon or local pastor in the United Methodist Church.

- That it will be up to the individual pastor to decide whether he/she wants to perform a same-sex marriage.

- That it is up to each congregation to decide if they will allow a same-sex marriage to take place in their church or on their premises.

- That all punitive measures against clergy who perform same-sex marriages are removed.

- That local churches no longer are permitted to leave the United Methodist Church and take the church building, other property and assets with them.

New Global Social Principles
The General Conference has approved new Global Social Principles. These new global social principles following extensive global consultations involving thousands of participants, as well as leaders and theologians from around the world. The new Global Social Principles are shorter, clearer and have a clear biblical basis.

 The Difficult Sentence
Since the phrase “The Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” was added to the church’s Book of Discipline in 1972, it has been widely debated . The sentence has been the basis for other legislation on marriage and ordination and has been a thorn in the side of many.  With the adoption of new the global social principles, this sentence is no longer there.

Changes will come into effect in one year
It's important to note that changes to the church’s Book of Discipline not will come into effect in the central conferences until May 3, 2025, which is one year after the end of the General Conference.

Financial Challenges
Despite the fact that about 25% of churches in the United States have left the United Methodist Church and the resulting financial challenges, the General Conference is seeking and finding good and responsible solutions, correcting its budget and looking to the future.
We know, we are looking at a financially tough time, with several budget cuts, which will affect the church in numerous ways and imply less funding for programs, episcopal supervision and several other areas.

It is a new day
General Conference has passed regionalization and has given the central conferences authority to set policies and boundaries for marriage, ordination and licensing for ministry and enabled them to delegate the same authority to annual conferences. I believe, these decisions  will empower the global church to move forward out of decades of conflict into a time of renewed focus on our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

 

Christian Alsted