At this point, much of the talk in the halls of General Conference is not about the Call to Action restructuring plan or the alternative Plan B.
The talk is of “Plan UMC,” a compromise involving people who developed both proposals to reconfigure agencies working with delegates from the central conferences. The new legislation is printed in today’s Daily Christian Advocate. The General Conference Committee on Calendar and Agenda expects the full assembly to take up restructuring legislation on Wednesday, May 2.
Discussions leading the compromise began in earnest Sunday, April 29, the day after the General Administration Legislative Committee adjourned without recommending any comprehensive proposal to consolidate agencies and shrink their boards.
“I think this is a strong and unifying plan that really draws from the best work of all the plans,” said the Rev. Gregory D. Stover, a district superintendent in West Ohio, Connectional Table member and supporter of the Call to Action plan. “I think it’s a reflection of God’s Spirit moving.”
He was among 18 church leaders who signed the submitted compromise, all General Conference delegates or reserve delegates.
Joe Whittemore, one of Plan B’s architects and another signer, said the new legislation addresses his concerns about the original Call to Action legislation.
“It’s a wonderful example of Christian conferencing where people of differing views … work on what they see as best for the whole church,” said Whittemore, a North Georgia Annual (regional) Conference lay leader and Connectional Table member. “We have an opportunity to begin restructuring the church in very significant ways. We do not miss the opportunity we have.”
What compromise says
Some of the compromise’s highlights:
- As with the original Call to Action plan, it replaces the Connectional Table with a General Council for Strategy and Oversight with 34 voting members.
- The proposed body would oversee the work of the denomination’s four program agencies — the Boards of Discipleship, Global Ministries, Church and Society, and Higher Education and Ministry. Those agencies would still have their own boards but be accountable to the general council.
- The proposed general council would have its own executive general secretary, with a maximum term of 12 years.
- It would also have authority to “withhold approval of any programs or activities that represent unnecessary duplication within an agency or between two or more agencies, or otherwise fail to meet established outcomes.”
- The General Council for Finance and Administration would remain separate and collaborate with the proposed General Council for Strategy and Oversight.
- The Board of Pension and Health Benefits, the United Methodist Publishing House, United Methodist Men and United Methodist Women would be separate agencies amenable to General Conference.
- United Methodist Communications (which includes United Methodist News Service) would answer to General Conference, but its budget would be determined in consultation with the General Council on Finance and Administration and General Council for Strategy and Oversight.
- The plan replaces the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History with a Committee on Archives and History. Its top executive would become an associate general secretary of the General Council on Finance and Administration.
- The plan replaces the churchwide Commissions on Religion and Race and Commission on the Status and Role of Women with a United Methodist Committee of Inclusiveness that reports to the proposed General Council for Strategy and Oversight.
- Altogether, the proposed structure would include 293 board members, down from 669 now.
- Annual conferences would have more flexibility to organize as they see fit to promote vitality.
“What I am hearing from the Africans is generally they are happy with what’s coming up,” said the Rev. Forbes Matonga, a Connectional Table member and reserve delegate from the West Zimbabwe Conference. “They appreciate this is a compromise; you can’t get everything you wanted. What we are working on now is the concerns coming from the Europeans.”
Betty Katiyo, also signer of the compromise and delegate from the West Zimbabwe Conference, sees Plan UMC as a good step forward. “This plan is not cast in iron because if it doesn’t work, we can always change it at a future General Conference,” she said.
The Rev. Adam Hamilton, a member of the Call to Action Interim Operations Team, said the plan does not include all the changes he had hoped. He was not among the delegates who worked on the compromise.
However, he is hopeful Plan UMC will encourage greater collaboration among general agencies, which he said was one of the drivers of the Interim Operations Team.
“I think what this does is have an executive general secretary who has the authority to call together the general secretaries to, in essence, hold them accountable for working closely together,” said Hamilton, senior pastor of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan.
“They already work closely together on some things, but they have to decide what they want to work together on. But the executive general secretary says, ‘You are going to come together on this project.’”
Members of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, who submitted their own restructuring plan to General Conference, were not included in the two days of conversation leading to the compromise.
“After reviewing the plan, it’s so far from the values and principles that we’re looking for, we don’t feel amendments could make it a plan that will take the church in a positive direction,” said Kevin M. Nelson of the progressive caucus. “Instead, we’re hoping the agency plans (to downsize their boards) will be adopted.”
Erin Hawkins, the top executive of the Commission on Religion and Race, also criticized the new legislation. She was a member of the Call to Action Steering Team that set restructuring in motion.
She said the plan “diminishes all the work we have done as a denomination” to include women and people of color in church leadership and decision making. “It provides no power or authority or resources to equip us to be a global church. “
Currently, both the Commission on Religion and Race and the Commission on the Status and Role of Women — agencies that monitor racial and gender inclusion — do not answer to the Connectional Table and can speak to inclusion issues in the denomination’s top governing board. Hawkins fears that independent monitoring authority would be threatened under Plan UMC.
She added that the “closed-door nature” of the conversations in developing all the restructuring proposals, including the compromise, shows why monitoring is still needed.
“In our global church, our work is not yet done,” she said. “In fact, it’s needed more than ever.”
Click here to see a visual representation of PlanUMC