As the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference approaches, churches are presented with unique communication opportunities with their members.
This may feel like an overwhelming job to some, but the church has collected a wealth of information to aid you in this task. There are a number of resources available to help you cover topics ranging from the structure of the church to details of what happens during the three-day legislative meeting.
Communicating about the structure of the church
As you begin talking about General Conference, some members will need a refresher on the structure of the church. This foundational knowledge equips them to better understand what General Conference is and how its work functions within the denomination. It's also important to explore why it's meeting in February and focusing on one topic outside of the normal quadrennial multi-issue session.
Gathered for Mission, Structured to Serve: A General Conference Primer offers a short introductory guide about what General Conference is, how it works and who participates.
The best place to learn more about the structure of The United Methodist Church is the church's official website. United Methodist Church Training is also offering a free online course, Exploring General Conference, through March 1.
Communicating the purpose of the Special Session
United Methodist Communications has produced a detailed Special Session Q&A page answering everything from why the conference was called to what the bishops do at General Conference.
Communicating the content of General Conference
The most critical task you face is explaining its main purpose: to receive and act on a report from the Commission on a Way Forward that examined paragraphs in The Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explored options to strengthen the unity of the church. (Summaries of the Way Forward Commission Report and the Finding a Way Forward handbook will help you introduce the work of the Commission on a Way Forward and the plans put forth.)
The key to communicating this effectively is to be clear without fostering anxiety. We all need a safe space to consider and process the important work of this special session of the General Conference.
The Judicial Council has ruled that it's "limited to receiving and acting upon a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Way Forward." The work of the commission has been received and translated for download into the official languages of the General Conference.
In addition to that report, petitions have been submitted that outline other plans and related pieces of legislation. All of the petitions received by the deadline have been published in the Advanced Edition of the Daily Christian Advocate, which can be downloaded or read in its entirety online.
Sharing insightful videos
In its efforts to inform The United Methodist Church on its processes and work, the Commission on a Way Forward released a number of video resources that document the experiences, hopes, dreams, concerns, approach and learnings of the 32-member Commission. Links to the videos originally shared on June 20th, June 26th and July 5th can be found on the denomination's main website.
Engaging in the conversation
There have been, and will continue to be, many voices in conversation around the work of the Special Session. Engaging in that conversation is healthy, but it is also important to give members the tools they need to evaluate news sources and understand who has authority to speak for The United Methodist Church.
To be clear, General Conference is the primary legislative body of The United Methodist Church. It is the only body that officially speaks for the church. Everything else is commentary on the work of the General Conference.
As a primer for Special Session of the General Conference conversations, you might consider showing selections of the Seeing a Way Forward video series produced by United Methodist News. The series features bishops, church leaders and members offering their perspectives on the work of the Commission on a Way Forward and the upcoming assembly.
In addition to clarifying who speaks for the church and sharing the video series, Discipleship Ministries has a useful Courageous Conversations resource that provides structure for deep conversations and introduces a safe method for discussing difficult or divisive topics. Similarly, United Methodist Communications has aggregated conversation models from agencies and annual conferences that will help you through difficult conversations.
Keeping informed during the conference
Once General Conference begins, you can use a host of tools to stay current on what has transpired without being there in person.
Ask the UMC will continue to field questions during the Special Session.
Since the work of the General Conference will be done as a single group rather than breaking into the typical legislative subcommittees, the event will be streamed by United Methodist Communications in its entirety -- beginning with worship on Saturday, Feb. 23 at 9:00 a.m. and adjourning at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 26. That livestream will be available online in both English and French.
Other helpful tools
Each annual conference has also been working hard at offering tools to communicate with local churches, so check your annual conference website.
A sampling of these tools may include...
- A powerful gathering liturgy for conversations like the one produced by the West Virginia Annual Conference
- A collection of presentations and videos like the one the Great Plains Annual Conference assembled
- A video from your bishop like the one the Alabama West-Florida Conference created
Whichever tools you use, we hope everyone will continue to pray for the work of the General Conference and the ongoing mission of The United Methodist Church as we seek to make disciples for the transformation of the world.