This will be a big year for the United Methodist Church because the General Conference will be held in Tampa on April 24-May, 2012.
Decisions will be made at the General Conference that will have an important effect on the life of the Church. One of the most discussed issues is the proposal from the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table for a re-structure of the Church. The purpose for this re-structure is to focus the attention and resources of the whole connection on developing vital congregations. In order to do this, the structure of the Church at the national and world-wide level needs to be reformed. There needs to be coordination of the staffs of the present boards and agencies in order put the energy into our focus on vital congregations. There also needs to be a reduction in costs of operation. Basically, the proposal is that the staffs of present boards and agencies will be adjusted and placed under one General Secretary and under the operation of a Center for Mission and Ministry with 15 elected members. A larger, more representative group will be advisory to the Center. Also, the proposal involves setting aside 60 million dollars of the budget to have funds to invest in a timely way in the priorities of our Church's mission. Also, included in this proposal is a plan to have one bishop be released from duties in an episcopal area in order to give full leadership to the Council of Bishops and the work of the Center.
Information about the proposal for re-structure can be found by Googling "United Methodist Call to Action."
There will be other issues at the General Conference that are very important. The Ministry Study Commission is recommending the elimination of the "guaranteed appointment" of pastors in the United Methodist Church.
The General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits will ask the General Conference to decide on the future of the pensions program. It will present options to the delegates. The preferred option of the board will be to establish a new defined benefit/defined contribution plan with a reduction in costs to the annual conferences of 15% and a reduction of benefits to the clergy of 15%. The motivation for the report of the board is to secure the funding for pensions of United Methodist clergy for the future. Ours is the oldest and most solid of all pensions programs of any religious organization or non-profit group in the nation, but it will need some changes in order to continue to be such a reliable program.
Of course, there will be a debate over some social issues, including the Church's Social Principles regarding the practice of homosexuality.
The major worship service beside the opening Communion service will be a service of acts of repentance because of injustices toward Native Americans and idigenous peoples.
This will be a very interesting General Conference to observe. I hope many Florida United Methodists will come to the Convention Center in Tampa to watch the plenary sessions. As the host conference, we shall need lots of volunteers. If you would like information about being a volunteer, please contact Sandy Lovern at the Florida United Methodist Center, 1-800-282-8011 or 1-863-688-5563.