PITTSBURGH – Nearly 280 communicators, first elected delegates and other leaders to the United Methodist Church, considered a new plan to bind all the denomination’s separate ministries under one “Connectional Table,” during the Pre-General Conference News Briefing, Jan. 31.
The proposal, entitled, “Living Into the Future,” calls for a common table where leaders from around the church would coordinate the work of most of the denomination’s general agencies. In addition, the Council would phase out two current ministries – the Council on Ministries and the General Council on Finance and Administration, by December 2006. Their functions will merge under the Connectional Table, which would be fully operational by Jan. 1, 2007.
The table would consist of: One member from each of the 64 U.S. annual conferences; Three members from each of the seven central conferences - regional units in Europe, Africa and Asia; The president and top staff executive of each general agency; Up to 14 bishops; Up to 12 at-large members for balance.
"The other important thing is to bring the whole church, the worldwide church, together in a new way," said Oyvind Helliesen, a director of the United Methodist General Council on Ministries.
"The elected membership of the table would be 50 percent laity, 50 percent clergy, 50 percent female, 50 percent male," Helliesen said. "No less than 30 percent of the members would be persons of racial-ethnic heritage, and no less than 10 percent would be youth and young adults."
Helliesen also said the Council on Ministries had struggled with ways to best organize the table. If the General Conference wants to amend the details, "I'm not afraid of that," he said. "I trust the wisdom of the General Conference. The (important) thing is to bring us together as a connection. That's the main thing."
Supporters believe that by merging the Council on Ministries with the Council on Finance, the UMC will become a “Spirit-led church” instead of one that is driven by money.
In a video shown at the briefing, two council members - Jay Williams and Darlene Amon - discuss the proposal with Bishop Joseph Yeakel at Barratt's Chapel in Frederica, Del. The chapel was the site of a historic meeting in 1784 between Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury, key figures in early American Methodism.
Yeakel described the proposal in terms of "connecting the connection." A rejection of the plan by General Conference would amount to the church choosing to "retain a disconnected structure," he said.
"We're trying to improve upon the way we do ministries," noted Williams. He added that the plan is not an attack on the general agencies.
"This truly is an opportunity that's before us today, and it's not going to happen overnight," Amon said, noting that the proposal calls for a two-year transition.
Williams recalled how the Council on Ministries placed the proposal on an altar at the end of a meeting in September, offering the plan up "as our gift to the church."
"And now," Amon said, "it's in the church's hands.