PORTLAND, Ore. – Meeting in Portland this week for its final meeting before General Conference 2016, the Commission on the General Conference voted to take the quadrennial legislative gathering out of the U.S. for the first time in 2024 – and again in 2028.
Manila, Philippines, was chosen as the site for the 2024 General Conference. The commission also voted to hold the 2028 conference in Harare, Zimbabwe. A decision to hold the 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis was announced in 2013.
Judi Kenaston, chairperson of the Commission on the General Conference, said the commission has been considering holding the assembly outside the U.S. for some time. Bishop Rodolfo Alfonso Juan of the Manila Episcopal Area and Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa of the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area both extended invitations for the General Conference to meet in their respective areas, an important consideration in choosing those areas.
"The commission wanted to set these locations now to allow plenty of time for all involved to make the necessary preparations," Kenaston said.
“Meeting outside the U.S. is an important statement to say that we're a worldwide denomination,” said Sara Hotchkiss, business manager of the General Conference. “The enthusiasm and hospitality in the two host countries has been remarkable.”
|The Commission on the General Conference gave the go-ahead for an alternative process of discernment for dealing with legislative petitions that may benefit from discussion in small groups.
The process would have to be voted on and approved by delegates at the 2016 General Conference in order to take effect. The commission plans to request that this process be used for dealing with petitions regarding sexual orientation and gender identity at the 2016 General Conference, but it could also apply to other legislation at the option of the legislative body.
The commission adopted a tentative process and authorized the executive committee to further refine the specifics of the plan whereby General Conference delegates will have the opportunity to discuss selected legislation in small groups. The small groups will give reports of their discussions to a facilitation team of delegates, who would be elected near the start of General Conference. The facilitation team would compile the information, look for trends and directions, develop a report to the plenary and craft a petition or petitions that will then come to the plenary for consideration according to the current rules of the General Conference. The full plan will be shared once it is fully developed.
The meeting is expected to cost more than the 2016 General Conference, but pricing is not available at this early date. Hotchkiss said there are two convention centers in Manila to be considered, and the University of Zimbabwe would be a potential location in Harare, but it is too soon to make any definite decisions.
The commission also took steps to help delegates from outside the U.S. participate more fully in the 2016 General Conference. They voted to provide tablets to Central Conference delegates so they would be able to receive documents electronically.
"We want to utilize technology to improve communication and provide opportunities for discussion for non-U.S. delegates ahead of time," said Rev. Gere Reist, secretary of the General Conference. "It will enable us to ensure delivery of the Advance Edition Daily Christian Advocate to delegates who have the tablets in a more timely way. ... They could get the information at the same time as delegates in the U.S. and participate more fully."
Reist said the General Conference had specifically charged the commission to look at "greater use of technology before General Conference to inform our debate, let dialogue between delegates begin before arriving at the session and to prioritize petitions."
The staff at United Methodist Communications evaluated a variety of tablets to see which would work best, looking at pricing, ease of use, size, weight, battery life and durability in harsh environments. The choice was the Samsung GalaxyTab 4.
Sherri Thiel, interim general secretary of United Methodist Communications, said her agency would distribute the tablets beginning in October and would also be responsible for training delegates how to use the tablets and coordinating help-desk support during the 10-day event.
"It's an exciting opportunity," Thiel said. "This is just one of the ways that technology is transforming the way the church communicates. We want the delegates to have the tablets in advance so they will be able to get familiar with the technology."
She said the tablets would also include an electronic version of the Bible and the United Methodist Book of Discipline.
"We think this is a good opportunity to see how the tablets work, to test whether they might move towards going to an electronic state for all delegates in 2020," Hotchkiss said. “We’d love to avoid the bulk of the paper and lessen our environmental impact.”