Texas Annual Conference Delegation Continues Preparations for General Conference
By Lindsay Peyton - En Español
While the uncertainty of the future of the Church has taken center stage in a number of articles, discussions and minds concerning General Conference 2020, the event could also be a time to refocus and redirect our energy toward God’s love. Dr. Thomas J. Pace, Senior Pastor of St. Luke’s UMC in Houston, has been poring through legislation, learning as much as possible, in preparation for General Conference in May. He said the General Conference will present an opportunity to rebuild and strengthen the Church and renew hope.
“We’re going to be forced to make some hard decisions,” he said. “But I am really hopeful. I don’t think it’s going to be easy or always pleasant, but necessity is the mother of invention. I think we’ll give birth to something important in the days ahead, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”
Each month, the 18 delegates for the Texas Annual Conference gather for their General Conference delegation meetings – and Pace is serving as the head of the delegation. There will be two more meetings before the General Conference.
Early on, one of the first orders of business was establishing a set of values, Pace explained. The TAC delegates agreed to focus on prayer, asking for guidance, and to treat one another with love and respect. Having integrity and accountability were next on the list. That requires honesty with each other, transparency and preparation, Pace explained.
Finally, the delegates agreed to consider possibility. “We will be forward thinking,” Pace said.
He explained that their approach will require focus, addressing current topics instead of rehashing old conversations and seeking solutions with a holy curiosity, asking what God can do in this.
Before the start of each meeting, Pace said, the delegates from the TAC read the values together, to reiterate their commitment to the Church and each other.
“This is a challenging time in the life of the Church,” Pace said.
At their monthly meetings, the TAC delegates have also spent time discussing their expectations, fears, motivations and aspirations for the General Conference 2020. “It’s been a very positive, honest conversation,” Pace said.
He explained that there is a lot on the table during the General Conference. Here are a few important topics to consider:
- Is separation in the future? In addition to discussions about the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation, there are four other groups with proposals other proposals addressing the denominations future, including New Denominations of Methodism, also known as the Indianapolis Plan, New Expressions Worldwide from UM-Forward, Next Generation UMC from UMCNext, and U.S. Regional Conference submitted by the Connectional Table. Each will require careful consideration, Pace explained.
- Maintaining clergy pensions is another topic of the upcoming General Conference. Wespath, the Church’s benefits and investment agency, hopes to move clergy from a defined-benefit plan to one that is based on defined contribution.
Making this switch would not affect the benefits of retired clergy or reduce what active clergy have already earned.
- is also providing legislation that would allow management of both groups if a Church separation does occur.
- Since 2012, the Board of Church and Society has worked to revise Social Principles, making them more relevant and theologically in-line with John Wesley’s teachings. This eight-year project has resulted in a draft, which is up for a vote in the General Conference. “It’s intended to make social principles more global in their approach,” Pace added.
- Considering new bishops will be another order of business. The Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters has submitted legislation to increase the number of African bishops from 13 to 18 and to establish a new central conference on the continent.
- Building a new budget is a top priority. “The budget is going to be a big deal; that’s going to be an important conversation,” Pace said. He explained that there is a proposal to reduce the budget by 18 percent. Budget concerns will also be part of discussions of separation.
- One petition in the legislation updates the language and structure of the Division on Ministries with Young People – and renames it the Young People’s Connectional Network. Pace explained that there are also new grants, ideas and approaches that could update youth ministries.
“On May 16, we’ll get up, we’ll go to the hospitals, to Bible study, to worship, to feed the hungry and to reach people for Jesus, to share the story of his amazing love,” Pace said. “Nothing that happens at General Conference is going to change that at all – and that’s the heart of what we do.”