A Review of the UMC General Con­fer­ence


Image from Stefan Schröckenfuchs
Stefan Schröckenfuchs

Pastor, Superintendent

UMC in Austria Superintendent Stefan Schröckenfuchs, a delegate to the recent General Conference, shares his reflections on this historic meeting.

The picture shows the delegation from Central and Southern Europe, including Superintendent Stefan Schröckenfuchs at center rear, and Bishop Stefan Zürcher at his left.

The General Conference is the highest legislative body of the United Methodist Church. At the recent General Conference meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina (US) from April 23 to May 3, 2024, the delegates from the US, Africa, the Philippines and Europe made far-reaching decisions. Thomas Fux and Superintendent Stefan Schröckenfuchs represented the United Methodist Church (EmK) Austria at the conference.

A historic conference

The United Methodist Church (UMC) is in a state of upheaval worldwide. While the church is growing in Africa and the Philippines, it has become significantly smaller in the US since the last General Conference (in 2019 in St. Louis, US). Numerous congregations in the US have broken away from the UMC following conflicts over sexual morality issues. At the same time, the US church has become more diverse and colorful in many respects. This is particularly evident in the fact that numerous bishops have been elected in recent years who reflect the multi-ethnic reality of the US. For example, Bishop David Wilson is the first Native American bishop to be elected.

Bishop Tracy S. Malone is the first African-American woman to be elected president of the Council of Bishops of the worldwide UMC.

The main resolutions of the General Conference

1) Regionalization

Heading into the conference, the existing structure of the UMC was strongly US-centered. On the one hand, this has meant that many questions of church order, which basically only affect congregations in the US, have had to be changed at the global level by the General Conference. On the other hand, the central conferences outside the US were able to regulate many issues regionally by means of adaptation rights. At the General Conference, delegates approved a package of eight petitions on regionalization by a large majority. The existing rights of the central conferences remain unchanged or are strengthened by their inclusion in the constitution. The right of adaptation will be more clearly regulated. The "central conferences" will be renamed "regional conferences." A separate regional conference is to be formed for the church in the US. This will significantly reduce the burden on future meetings of the General Conference. "Regionalization will allow the church to be contextual in its ministry while remaining connected to the mission of the church and the essentials of the faith. It will allow the church to be true to who we are as a worldwide denomination," said Tracy S. Malone, president of the Council of Bishops. The required constitutional changes still need to be ratified by all Annual Conferences worldwide before they come into force.

2) Revised Social Principles

Delegates approved the first revision of the denomination's Social Principles in nearly 50 years. The Social Principles reflect the official teachings of the UMC on a variety of topics. However, they are not church law, but are intended to reflect on a Biblical basis the view of the UMC on current issues. The General Conference in 2012 decided to revise the Social Principles, setting in motion a process involving people from all over the world and coordinated by the General Board of Church and Society. The Social Principles emphasize the value and dignity of all people, oppose racism, promote creation care, and address other social ills. They advocate healthy community in all its forms, including the economic, social and political dimensions of community. The revised Social Principles also no longer contain any negative or discriminatory statements towards people of the LGTBQ way of life and advocate inclusivity in all respects.

3) Deletion of restrictive formulations

In the dispute over questions of sexual morality, numerous discriminatory formulations against LGTBQ persons, as well as restrictions on the church's ministry to and with them, had been adopted by previous General Conferences. The just-completed General Conference, by an overwhelming margin, deleted the fundamental statement that "the practice of homosexuality...is incompatible with Christian teaching." Numerous restrictions based on this statement have also been removed from the church order. With these changes, the church order has once again become a "neutral place" where no single group is discriminated against. It leaves room for different opinions within the UMC by avoiding far-reaching specifications.

Many of the formulations and restrictions that have now been deleted were never included in the church order of the UMC in Central and Southern Europe. Likewise, the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe has already passed resolutions in 2022 that allow our churches and congregations to shape questions of ordination or the blessing or wedding celebrations of same-sex couples in their respective contexts. Many of these changes are therefore primarily symbolic for the UMC in Europe.

4) The General Conference has also

  • adopted an apology to the victims of sexual misconduct by pastors and volunteers in the church. The resolution also encourages the reporting of sexual abuse and declares that the abuse of power in the church will not be tolerated. The delegates also highlighted violence perpetrated against women around the world during a "Thursday in Black" commemoration;
  • approved the addition of two bishops for Africa, bringing the total number of bishops in Africa to 15, and set the number of US bishops at 32, a significant decrease from the 39 currently active bishops in the US;
  • approved a motion allowing four Annual Conferences in the Eurasia Area to leave the denomination and form an autonomous church.

For more information on the 2024 United Methodist Church General Conference, we invite you to read the recap below.

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