by Chris Ritter
As part of the Indianapolis Negotiating Team, I really had not planned on submitting much else in the way of petitions to General Conference 2020. However, as the urging of some friends, I drafted a single constitutional amendment that would relieve much of the stress in our current connection. Like many of you, I hope for a more comprehensive settlement at Minneapolis in May. But what if none of the plans presented have support to pass? What if we all remain stuck?
I reconstructed Paragraph 41 of the constitution to give annual conferences, central conferences, and jurisdictional conferences the right to do ministry anywhere they feel they can be effective. This allows for a gradual sorting of the UMC. We will either learn to live together or live apart.
The provision would guarantee the right of any local church to transfer to any annual conference from which they can secure a letter from the cabinet saying that they are willing to receive and supervise them. So if the approach to ministry is not compatible in their current UM annual conference, a church can go shopping a different one… even if its on a different continent. This also will gradually reward the annual conferences that “work,” bringing a much-needed element of meritocracy into our system. Once a transfer vote is taken there cannot be another for three years.
Likewise, any annual conference may join any jurisdictional or central conference. This allows the question of episcopal supervision to be sorted. Paragraph 41 is expanded to allow for fluid jurisdictional and central conference boundaries.
Again, I don’t consider this single provision a panacea. I simply offer it as part of mix. By the way, I also drafted a completely new constitution for United Methodism that transforms us into The United Methodist Communion of Churches. I hope to share that soon, too.
Rigid geographic borders have contributed to conflict in our annual conferences and denomination. This constitutional change would make local church and annual conference transfers much simpler. The new reality will either help us live together as a church or ease the transition if we need to ultimately divide.
¶ 41. Article V. Transfers
of Local Churches– 1. Other provisions notwithstanding, a local church may be transferred from one annual conference to another in which it is geographically located upon approval by a two-thirds vote of those present and voting in each of the following: the charge conference; the congregational meeting of the local church; each of the two annual conferences involved. The vote shall be certified by the secretaries of the specified conferences or meetings to the bishops having supervision of the annual conferences involved, and upon their announcement of the required majorities the transfer shall immediately be effective. 2. The vote on approval of transfer shall be taken by each annual conference at its first session after the matter is submitted to it. 3. Transfers under the provisions of this article shall not be governed or restricted by other provisions of this Constitution related to changes of boundaries of conferences. transfer to any annual conference from which it attains a letter of the bishop certifying the cabinet is willing and able to include them in the ministry of the annual conference. The transfer shall be approved by a majority vote of a charge or church conference. The motion for vote shall include an effective date which shall be shared with the bishop of the annual conference from which the congregation is transferring. Once a vote on transfer is made the local church may not vote again on transfer for a period of 36 months. Any share of unfunded pension liability, as calculated by the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits, would transfer with the congregation to their new annual conference.
2. Other provisions notwithstanding, an annual conference may transfer to another jurisdictional or central conference by majority vote of the plenary body. The motion shall include an effective date no earlier than six months from the time of the vote and notice shall be given to the colleges of bishops involved by the secretary of the annual conference. Ideally such decisions would be timed to coincide with the end of episcopal terms. When an annual conference transfers the jurisdictional or central conferences involved may meet to adjust the plan of episcopal supervision. Once a vote on transfer is made the annual conference may not vote again on transfer for a period of 36 months.
3. Geographic boundaries of the constitution notwithstanding, annual conferences, jurisdictional conferences, and central conferences may do ministry anywhere they believe they may be effective. Annual conferences, jurisdictional conferences, and central conferences may exceed their normal borders as they so choose, and geographic borders may overlap throughout the connection.