Pointing to ongoing concerns around COVID-19, a group of General Conference delegates is urging a third postponement of the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly — this time to 2024.
“We strongly urge the Commission on the General Conference to postpone the General Conference until 2024, when it seems more likely that we could properly ensure the health, safety, and participation of all attendees,” said a letter to the commission signed by 170 delegates from around the globe. The commission received the names of all the signers.
The letter also expressed concern about an advocacy group’s initiative to cover some delegates’ travel to receive vaccines.
In January, the Wesleyan Covenant Association announced that it was working with other like-minded, theologically conservative groups to pay General Conference delegates in Africa, Eurasia and the Philippines for the travel costs of getting their shots.
The WCA argues that some delegates need financial assistance to reach the cities where governments are distributing vaccines for free. International travelers to the U.S. are required to have proof of vaccination.
However, the delegates’ letter urged the General Conference commission to appoint a task force “to investigate the WCA’s efforts to exert undue influence by offering direct cash payments to General Conference delegates outside the U.S.”
Meanwhile, the Africa Initiative — an advocacy group of African church leaders aligned with the WCA — released a statement urging that General Conference move forward.
“Further delay of this global gathering would do much harm to progressives and conservatives alike who are deeply convinced about moving forward to do ministry as they know and understand it based on their convictions,” the group said. Nineteen Africa Initiative leaders, many of whom are delegates, signed the statement.
More than 30 General Conference delegates from Africa signed the letter urging delay. Another African advocacy group, the Africa Voice of Unity, also sent a statement to the General Conference commission urging delay and noting that delegates are having trouble getting visas.
The commission received the correspondence as it considers whether The United Methodist Church’s top legislative meeting — already twice postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic — can go forward as now scheduled Aug. 29-Sept. 6 in Minneapolis. The commission next meets on Feb. 24 and plans to make a decision by the end of March.
Chief among the commission’s criteria for going forward is that a reasonable threshold of delegates from around the world can participate. The commission previously identified barriers to holding the gathering online.
The coming General Conference has 862 voting delegates — 55.9% from the U.S., 32% from Africa, 6% from the Philippines, 4.6% from Europe and the remainder from concordat churches that have close ties to The United Methodist Church.