The Commission on the General Conference held a two-day virtual gathering Dec.11-12 to discuss complex matters concerning the postponed 2020 General Conference session that is currently set for Aug. 29 to Sept. 7, 2021.
It was decided that the Technology Study Team, must submit their report to the Commission by January 31, 2021. This team is exploring the implications of options for accommodating full participation at General Conference including, but not limited to, the possibility of utilizing technology and online voting. In advance of their report, it was decided that members of the Commission could observe the team meetings and receive meeting minutes. The Technology Study Team report will be reviewed then discussed at the Commission on the General Conference meeting on Feb. 20.
The Commission affirmed the process for receiving petitions submitted after the original 230 and 45 day deadlines noting that they will be treated and processed through the existing system of receiving petitions submitted after the deadline. The Committee on Reference is the appropriate body to determine whether petitions submitted after the original 230 and 45 day deadlines should be considered, following the normal procedures and processes already contained within the Plan of Organization and Rules of Order. The process for amending previously submitted petitions was also reviewed. The Commission is asking that, in light of the extenuating circumstances and postponed original start date, staff arrange to gather the Committee on Reference as soon as practical.
It was noted that this is in alignment with the overall understanding of keeping to the original arrangements and deadlines such as election of delegates, selection of legislative committees, agenda, nominations, theme and logo, and the extension of terms of office until lawful successors can be elected and installed. Since the 2020 General Conference was postponed and not cancelled with everything starting over, the arrangements all move forward to the postponed session.
New concerns have been raised by the Commission in light of news about the U.S. Department of State’s Visa Bond Pilot Program that could hinder participants from traveling to General Conference. The program that begins Dec. 24 is only slated for six months, but it’s uncertain whether these travel restrictions will be extended which could impact attendees of the upcoming session.
As they gather additional information, the Commission’s executive committee is reaching out to the Council of Bishops to share information in an effort to expedite decisions surrounding General Conference and other Jurisdictional and Central Conference bodies, while seeking to eliminate duplication in the important work being done by both groups.
“We realize that time is of the essence. However, the reality is that there are parts of the Book of Discipline that do not speak to the issues raised during a pandemic,” shared Commission chair Kim Simpson. “There are still a lot of unknown factors and we will have to make a best informed decision with what we have and trust God to guide us to do the best we can for The United Methodist Church.”
Though the roll outs of COVID-19 vaccines are encouraging, there are still questions that the Commission on the General Conference is pondering about availability around the world and the virus’ duration as they work to ensure attendee safety. In the midst of this they are also faithfully working to meet all legal/policy requirements while ensuring as much global participation as possible and maintaining the integrity of the voting and credentialing processes.
Daily Christian Advocate publication concerns, given COVID-19’s impact on the publishing industry, were also discussed. Minor obvious adjustments such as date changes will be made to the plan of organization and rules of order, agenda and schedule to be relevant to the new dates. One such adjustment example is the designation of Thursdays in Black from Thursday, May 7, 2020 to Thursday, September 2, 2021. The Thursdays in Black designated date is in solidarity with the World Council of Churches.
A Commission on the General Conference meeting is being scheduled for January to continue ongoing discussions.