From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Connectional Team to release first draft of its proposals in

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG>
Date 21 Oct 1998 13:55:46


Oct. 21,1998	Contact: Thomas S. McAnally(615)742-5470 Nashville,
Tenn.    {608}

ATLANTA (UMNS) --  The first draft of a plan for how the United
Methodist Church might look and act in the next century will not be
released until February but initial concepts were agreed upon during a
meeting of the Connectional Process Team (CPT) Oct. 16-20.

The 38-member team was created by the church's top legislative body in
1996 to "manage, guide and promote a transformational direction" for the
denomination. Among its tasks, the group was asked to propose
organizational forms for the church and to consider its global nature.

The denomination has about 8.5 million members in 66 annual (regional)
conferences in the United States and more than 1 million members in
about 40 annual conferences in Europe, Africa and the Philippines. 

Setting the stage for the team's sixth meeting, Bishop Sharon Brown
Christopher, chairperson,  pointed to various "cries of disconnect"
throughout the world. However, she observed, "I remember God's vision of
connection where wolves lie down with the lambs, where the blind see and
the lame walk. God's vision of life is one of  connections."  

She called on the team members to help the United Methodist Church hone
its methods so that God can more easily transform the world through a
transformed church. "We as United Methodists must come around a common
table to facilitate God's connection for all of life," she said.

While the CPT reached some tentative agreements on organizational
matters, Christopher stressed that transformation is the overall focus
of the group's work.  

"The report of the CPT is an invitation to the United Methodist Church
into a new way of life," she explained. "We're moving away from a focus
on administrative activity to formation in God's spirit and the
development of faith so that United Methodist people might work in
partnership with God in the transformation of the world."

Some changes in the form of the church are necessary to enhance the
ability of United Methodists to develop faith for prophetic witness, she

The "transformational directions" that the CPT has discerned from its
listening, study, debate and prayer derive from Jesus' call in Matthew
28:19-20 to "make disciples." The team's first draft lists themes that
must guide transformational change in the church. These include
capturing the primacy of spiritual formation, inspiring spiritual
leadership, calling all spiritual and prophetic leaders to a common
table, discovering the power of connectionalism, and designing a
structure of boards and agencies that act as resources to local
congregations for disciple making and annual conferences for building
spiritual leadership.

The team is examining all activities, functions and structures by
asking, "Will this enable the United Methodist Church throughout the
world to make disciples of Jesus Christ through local congregations and
other faith communities bringing persons into covenant relationship with
each other and into communion with God to be God's prophetic witness in
the world?" 

The concept of a common table is at the center of most levels of church
life in the team's proposals. Team member Bette Trumble of Springfield,
Neb., defined the concept as "One place where, at one time, all the
components of church life can come together so they aren't working at
cross purposes." 

Aileen Williams of Rochester, Minn., noted that many countries outside
the United States have long embraced bringing all interested parties
together for decision making. "Only in the West have we tended to
compartmentalize everything," she noted. "We make decisions by groups in
isolation and then relate to one another legislatively."

For the first time, the team began to map out a global organization for
a transformed church. In its first draft, the plan will call for the
entire United Methodist Church to move toward a "global parish where the
connection is expressed through interdependent relationships at all

The transformation of the church around the world, according to
agreements reached in Atlanta, will require a "shift from a model where
the U.S. perspective dominates a highly structured organization to one
where the global perspective prevails that respects and accommodates the
rich variety of United Methodist ministries and missions around the

To test United Methodist opinion, the CPT is proposing a global body
that would meet every four years as the General Conference, not to be
confused with the church's current legislative body by the same name.
The conference would be a "connecting point where United Methodists
around the globe meet at a common table for the purpose of considering
and celebrating our common doctrinal heritage and our mission and
ministries as disciples who are part of a new world congregation."   

The General Conference, the team believes,  would "foster visioning,
deliberating, celebrating and lifting up the prophetic voice of the
church."  In all cases, the team wants the church to turn away from what
some consider to be a preoccupation with legislative and administrative
matters so that spiritual transformation can take place.

The CPT anticipates that the first General Conference under the new plan
would be held in the year 2004. The General Conference of the church as
it now exists will receive the CPT proposals when it meets next in
Cleveland May 2-12, 2000. The Rev. Minerva Carcano of Dallas is
chairperson of a writing team for CPT. The final draft must be submitted
late in 1999.

The United States would become a Central Conference under the CPT
proposal and would  relate to the new General Conference in the same
manner as the current Central Conferences outside the United States.
United Methodists in the United States would have their own conference
every four years. The current General Conference, which meets every four
years, has nearly 1,000 delegates from around the world. Since about 160
of the delegates to the last conference in 1996 came from outside the
United States, it is expected that the proposed U. S. Central Conference
of 2004 would include about 840 delegates. 

While some members object to continuing U.S. jurisdictions in the next
century, the CPT as a whole agreed that the U.S. Central Conference,
because of its size, could maintain its current five geographic units,
which elect and assign their own bishops. Jurisdictions in the U.S. and
central conferences outside the United States would elect bishops and
have services of installation.  However, since they are considered
bishops of the entire church, they would be consecrated at the global

For consultative purposes, regional meetings would be held in
conjunction with the new General Conference with the total time
committed to both not to exceed 10 days. The regions would initially
include Europe, North America, Africa, and Asia. It is  anticipated that
affiliated autonomous Methodist denominations might choose to be part of
these regional gatherings. 

Autonomous and affiliated churches are those that had their beginnings
in the work of what is now the United Methodist Church and that continue
a covenant relationship with the denomination. Representing the
affiliated autonomous Methodist Churches on the CPT is Bishop Aldo
Etchegoyen of Argentina. Eleven other members are from United Methodist
conferences outside the United States.

The proposed global General Conference beginning in 2004 would include
about 500 delegates --- four from each annual conference, regardless of
size. To ensure a balance in global representation, it will be
recommended that no single region should have more than 50 percent of
the total number of delegates. In the event that a single region is
likely to have more than 50 percent of the total, additional delegates
from other annual conferences would be added.

The General Conference would deal with matters related to ecumenical
relationships, global missions and social justice and have legislative
responsibility for common material in the Book of Discipline, such as
the Constitution and doctrinal statements. Beyond a relatively small
core of common material, each central conference would create its own
Book of Discipline with policies and procedures to fit its respective
cultural context. This has long been the practice for central
conferences outside the United States.

In principle, all regions would take turns hosting the General
Conference, but CPT members acknowledge that costs will probably dictate
that the conferences be held most often in the United States. When the
new General Conference meets in the United States, the U.S. Central
Conference would likely choose to hold its meeting at the same time to
keep costs down. 

The CPT plans to propose that the new General Conference be directed by
a group tentatively called a covenant council. It would assume the
global functions of current church boards and agencies. It would also
provide the expertise and capability for United Methodists from
throughout the world to communicate with one another using the latest

Much of the Atlanta meeting was spent discussing the "common table." The
team members noted that Christ called his disciples to a common table at
the Last Supper to "nourish and inspire and send them forth into the
world for ministry in his name. So, too, must today's spiritual and
prophetic leaders gather at a common table at every connecting  point in
the United Methodist Church for hearing the call of Christ, discerning
together the will of God for our ministry in the world, nourishing each
other spiritually, and mutually supporting each other in carrying
Christ's message into the world."

The common table concept was supported by the team, but the title was
problematic. The group feared that using the term might detract  from
the specific theological meaning of the Last Supper event. Thus it was
agreed to tentatively use the term covenant council. 

The CPT proposals address every level or organizational entity of church
life. Covenant councils are called for at the local church, annual
conference, central conference and global levels.  Annual conferences
would continue to be basic connectional units of the church, but the
primary locus of ministry and mission would be the local church.   

Districts are seen by the CPT as  key points for developing spiritual
leadership. Within each district, the team would like to see close
connections among congregational leaders.  "Connecting in covenant
relationships, the clergy and lay leadership, primary in small
geographical areas within districts, is pivotal to renewing the United
Methodist Church's commitment to mutual accountability and spiritual
nurture," the team explained. Efforts are being made to relieve district
superintendents and bishops of many administrative duties so they can
spent more time as spiritual leaders. 

Each central conference would have a covenant council but each central
conference would decide for itself what boards it wants, if any. In the
United States, the four years following the 2000 General Conference will
be seen as a transitional period where all current general agencies
under the covenant council in the U.S. Central Conference will align
their functions with those identified by the CPT as essential to the
future mission of the church. These include leadership development,
communications and resourcing, mission and social advocacy,
administration and finance and stewardship, and judicial/legal
functions. Details such as the number and role of agencies in the U.S.
Central Conference have not been determined by the team, but strong
support was voiced for having current agencies involved in the process.

The CPT, operating under a four-year budget of about $528,359,  plans to
ask the church's General Council on Finance and Administration for
additional funding to have a third meeting before the end of 1999.
Assuming that money is provided, the team will meet to perfect its
initial draft Jan. 15-18. A planned March 18-22 meeting would be
cancelled. A new meeting would be held June 28-July 1 to rework the
draft in light of responses from across the church. A Sept. 16-20
meeting would be spent perfecting the final draft.

The team has not projected costs for the changes it is recommending but
plans to do so before its final draft later in 1999. During its meeting
here, the group spent an afternoon with a Connectional Ministry Funding
Patterns Task Force, also created by the 1996 General Conference.
Members of the two groups expressed hope that they could go to the 2000
General Conference with reports that were compatible. 

As soon as the first draft of its report is available after the January
CPT meeting, it will be available for distribution across the church
both in a four-page summary and in its entirety. Both versions will be
on the CPT World Wide Web site:  Feedback will be
encouraged at every point. The bishops are being asked to provide time
for CPT presentations at their annual conference sessions early in 1999.

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