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May 10, 2000 GC-057

Daily wrap-up: Archbishop speaks to delegates; CPT plan bites dust

CLEVELAND (UMNS) – History was made May 10 when the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. George Carey, addressed the United Methodist Church’s top legislative assembly, the first head of the worldwide Anglican communion to do so.

Clad in a purple cassock, the archbishop expressed great appreciation for the opportunity to speak to the spiritual descendants of John Wesley, an Anglican rector until his death.

Christians, Carey said, "must transcend the concern for the survival of the church and start to focus (their) concern upon the kingdom of God and its centrality to church and society." The archbishop said he "abandoned a long time ago a theology of unity that assumes it means uniformity and sameness."

After the worship service, ecumenical visitors were introduced from the African Methodist Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Nazarene, Christian Methodist Episcopal, Orthodox and Wesleyan churches and the United Church of Christ. Delegates also welcomed representatives of the National Council of Churches, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Consultation on Church Union, International Council of Community Churches and World Council of Churches.

Two United Methodist ecumenical leaders were recognized by the Council of Bishops — Jan Love, Columbia, S.C., a laywoman who has represented the denomination at the World Council of Churches for more than 20 years, and the Rev. Kathryn Bannister, a Kansas pastor serving as one of the WCC’s presidents. The recognitions were presented by Bishop Melvin Talbert, the incoming ecumenical officer of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

While the archbishop was preaching inside the Cleveland Convention Center, nearly 200 people, including a United Methodist bishop, were being arrested for engaging in civil disobedience as a way of protesting United Methodist policies regarding homosexuality. Estimates of those arrested ranged from 185 to more than 190.

About 300 people participated in the rally organized by Soulforce, a coalition of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people and heterosexuals from a variety of faith backgrounds. The group is pushing the United Methodist Church and other mainline denominations to fully accept sexual minorities in the life of the church.

According to police officials, the protestors were charged with aggravated disorderly conduct after being led away when they blocked the convention center driveway.

Bishop C. Joseph Sprague, head of the Chicago Area, was among the first protestors arrested. At least nine other active or retired bishops participated in the rally held before the act of civil disobedience. None of the other bishops was arrested. The Cleveland police had completed processing the arrested protestors and had released them by 7:30 p.m.

In business today, the General Conference delegates essentially scrapped a 53-page report that had recommendations for a dramatic restructuring of the denomination. The report was prepared by the Connectional Process Team, which was created by the 1996 General Conference to develop a "transformational direction" for the church. The price tag for the 38-member team’s four years of work was $660,000.

By a 784-144 vote, the delegates rebuffed the report and basically agreed to maintain the denomination’s current structure. However, they did affirm the broad transformational directions recommended by CPT, and referred them to the General Council on Ministries, the program-coordinating agency for the church. The directions ask the church at all levels to: center on Christian formation; call forth covenant leadership; empower the connection for ministry; strengthen global and ecumenical dialogue and relationships; and encourage dialogue around church doctrine and theological understanding.

In a separate action, delegates agreed to set up a churchwide body to do planning and research and to evaluate the emerging needs of the church. The new entity would also do specific research for the central conferences – the church’s regional units outside the United States.

The Judicial Council handed down several decisions during the morning.

Affirming the Book of Discipline, the church’s supreme court ruled that annual conferences may not "legally negate, ignore, or violate" provisions in the book, even when a conference’s disagreements are based upon conscientious objections. The issue was raised earlier in General Conference sessions by Joe M. Whittemore, a delegate from North Georgia.

The court ruled that the Book of Discipline regulates every phase of the church’s life and work.

In a second case, the council said the General Conference had voided an election held May 8 by its own legislative action a day later. This happened, according to the council, when the delegates approved legislation that deleted the age limit on members of the court. As a result, the May 8 election would have filled a vacancy that didn’t exist.

After extended debate in a plenary session, the delegates declined to reconsider the original action.

In a late morning news conference, three bishops expressed hope and optimism for the denomination.

"I think we are focused on a point where our church is in disagreement," said Bishop Woodie White of the Indiana Area. "But there are many more issues where we are in agreement than in disagreement."

All three bishops voiced their belief that the current struggle with homosexuality issues can create a stronger United Methodist Church. White was joined in the press conference by Bishops Kenneth Carder, Nashville (Tenn.) Area, and Mary Ann Swenson, Denver Area.

In legislation, the delegates encouraged congregations and parents to monitor more carefully what their children watch and listen to on television, the Internet and motion pictures. Individuals were asked to express their opposition to such material by buying brands other than those advertised.

After almost an hour’s debate, the conference approved by a 569-377 vote a new formula for determining how many delegates an annual conference can elect for General Conference.

The new formula provides that half of the General Conference delegates to be elected shall be allocated on the basis of clergy membership. The allocation to each annual conference shall be proportional to its share of the total clergy in the church.

The other half of the delegates shall be allocated based on the number of members in the local churches of the annual conference. The allocation of each annual conference shall be proportional to its share of the total lay membership.

In every case, the delegation for a particular conference will include at least one clergy and one lay member. If a conference has more delegates, the total must be half clergy and half laity.

Proponents of the new formula say it is long overdue and that it will be fairer than the current system, which is largely clergy based. Several amendments were proposed during the debate, including a minority report from the legislative committee, but all were voted down in favor of the legislative committee’s majority report.

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-- Robert Lear

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