From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Restructure plan aims to improve work of church

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Thu, 8 Apr 2004 11:22:46 -0500

April 8, 2004  News media contact: Tim Tanton7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn.
7 E-mail: 7 ALL-I{166}

NOTE: A sidebar, UMNS story #167, and photographs are available at

A UMNS Report
By John A. Lovelace*

As it did four years ago, the United Methodist Church's top legislative
assembly will once again consider a proposal for reordering the work of the
denomination when delegates meet April 27-May 7 in Pittsburgh.

General Conference all but gutted the earlier proposal, brought by a
Connectional Process Team, but it salvaged pieces of the plan and passed them
on to the church's program-coordinating agency for more work. The resulting
"Living Into the Future" plan proposes merging the work of the denomination's
program-coordinating and finance agencies into a "Connectional Table," which
would oversee ministries budgeted at more than $500 million per quadrennium.

Advocates say the proposal would bring the widespread denomination together.
United Methodists have congregations and other ministries on four continents
- Africa, Asia, Europe and North America (primarily the United States). All
regions would be represented at the table, along with the Council of Bishops
and officials from the churchwide general agencies. 

Critics say the proposal would weaken the fiscal accountability and auditing
function performed since 1972 by the denomination's finance and
administration agency. Some opponents also take issue with the size of the

Even the document's proponents anticipate that it will be revised, which is
standard procedure for United Methodist General Conferences. The assembly
meets once every four years.

The document, as presented, would fold the two top-tier coordinating agencies
into the Connectional Table as of Jan. 1, 2007. Those agencies are the
General Council on Finance and Administration, with a 41-member governing
board, and the General Council on Ministries, governed by 78 members. Ten
other agencies accountable to the General Council on Ministries would retain
their free-standing boards, with about 500 directors, but be accountable to
and represented at the Connectional Table.

"Living Into the Future" is the General Council on Ministries' response to a
mandate given to it by the General Conference four years ago to create "the
most effective design for the work of the general agencies." The mandate is
the latest in a series of efforts by General Conference over the years to
improve the operation and coordination of churchwide ministries.

The council's conciliar officer, Cecelia M. Long, explained that in
fulfilling this assignment, input was sought from annual conferences, central
conferences, general agencies and others from across the church. The council
has offices in Dayton, Ohio.

"GCOM believes 'Living Into the Future' provides the most effective setting
for visioning, discernment and decision-making by members with a holistic
view of the church," Long said. 

"This proposal is an initial step, not the final step. The Connectional Table
would determine what further changes are needed," she said. The table would
recommend any such changes to the General Conference for approval.   

The document is closer to current structure than were several proposals that
surfaced within the General Council on Ministries in 2000, soon after the
agency began working on the assignment. One idea called for dissolving the
boards of most of the denomination's 14 agencies into one "General Board of
the United Methodist Church." Council directors also discussed and set aside
the idea of proposing a bicameral (two-part) legislative structure with a
lay/clergy "house" and a "House of Bishops."

"Living Into the Future" evolved through several council meetings, regional
hearings and drafts by a writing team. The council adopted it in September
2003 for referral to the General Conference.

One of the document's most insistent critics is the council's own elected
secretary. The Rev. Andy Langford, senior pastor of Central United Methodist
Church in Concord, N.C., acknowledges that the proposal "suggests a closer
relationship between finances and ministry" but leaves a group of general
agencies "even more distant from people in the pew and (leaves) even more
distrust and inertia throughout the (whole church) connection."

In a 4,500-word written response, Langford said he hopes that the Pittsburgh
gathering "will set aside 'Living Into the Future' and make the serious
reforms that our denomination so badly needs." He indicated that the
preferred model would be "smaller, less expensive and less centralized."

The Advance Daily Christian Advocate, a compilation of all the legislation
going to General Conference, includes at least two proposals labeled as
alternative Connectional Table plans. One calls for a smaller table - with 29
members instead of the 131 to 134 possible under "Living Into the Future" -
with no budgetary authority. The other emphasizes evangelism and social
action as key areas of focus and proposes that the new entity plan an annual
convocation "where all United Methodists are invited to conduct the business"
of the table.

Like all proposals for changes in United Methodist Church law, "Living Into
the Future" will go first to the appropriate legislative committee, in this
instance the 95-member General Conference Committee on General
Administration. The committee could decide to accept "Living Into the
Future," develop a different restructure proposal or retain the status quo.

# # #

*Lovelace is a writer and editor in Dallas. He has covered eight United
Methodist General Conferences.


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