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What is ... the General Conference?

Video Script:

This is a quick overview of the General Conference and how it serves The United Methodist Church.

Three main bodies govern the United Methodist Church: The General Conference, the Council of Bishops and the Judicial Council. The General Conference is the body that sets official policy and speaks as the entire denomination.

What does General Conference do?

As the highest legislative body of The United Methodist Church, General Conference holds the power to revise The Book of Discipline and The Book of Resolutions while also initiating amendments to the denominations constitution. General Conference normally meets once every quadrennium or every four years. The Council of Bishops may also call a special session to address a specific topic. Only two special sessions have been called since The United Methodist Church formed in 1968.

Any congregation, conference, organization or person may submit a petition to General Conference to change the Book of Discipline or the Book of Resolutions. Further petitions may also be introduced from the floor by delegates. Most legislation requires a simple majority vote to pass. Amendments to the denomination’s Constitution require a two-thirds vote of the General Conference followed by a two-thirds aggregate vote of the lay and clergy members present and voting of the annual conferences. However, changes to Restrictive Rules 1 and 2 in the constitution, which establish the doctrinal standards, require a three-fourths aggregate vote of the lay and clergy members present and voting in the annual conferences. General Conference also approves the budget allocating apportioned funds, official documents such as The United Methodist Hymnal and The Book of Worship and official teachings on subjects such as baptism and Holy Communion.   

How are General Conference delegates elected?

Delegates are United Methodists from around the world elected by their annual, missionary or provisional conference. The total number of delegates at General Conference must always fall between 600 and 1,000 people. The General Conference consists of an equal number of lay and clergy delegates. Conferences elect their delegates no more than two years prior to the next General Conference session. Lay members to annual conference elect lay delegates and clergy members elect clergy delegates. The United Methodist Church has a concordat agreement with four autonomous Methodist churches to send a total of 10 voting delegates. The Book of Discipline contains the formula for determining how delegates are apportioned from each of the conferences. The Secretary of the General Conference determines the total number of delegates and applies that formula to determine how many will come from each conference to meet the total number required. Every conference is allowed to send at least two delegates to General Conference regardless of its size – one lay, one clergy. All delegates are eligible to vote on all legislation considered by the General Conference.

Bishops preside during the General Conference session, but have neither voice nor vote. They do not address the Conference unless given permission by the General Conference.

What happens after General Conference?

The Book of Discipline, the Book of Resolutions and other official documents affected by General Conference are updated following the session to include newly adopted legislation. In most instances, legislation becomes effective on Jan. 1 of the year following year. Amendments to the constitution become official only after they are ratified. The Judicial Council may be petitioned to review any resolution or legislation passed by General Conference to determine its constitutionality or legality, meaning or effect.

In summary, The General Conference sets the policies for the work of the church. It also adopts the worldwide denominational budget. By doing these things, the General Conference seeks to strengthen the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. To learn more check out chapter 4, section 1 of the Book of Discipline.

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