General Conference 2008: Ordination Process Made More Accessible
General Conference adopted four petitions affecting the candidacy process whereby men and women become ordained as deacons or elders. The effect of these changes reduces the possible years from entry into candidacy to ordination by two years, and makes the process less prescriptive, therefore making ordination more accessible to a greater number of potential candidates.
The membership requirement to enter candidacy was shortened from two years to one year, and the body ruled that membership is not required if the candidate has been involved in a UM campus ministry or other denominational ministry for one year. Delegates also removed a prescribed Candidacy Guidebook – to allow annual conferences to determine candidacy resources to be studied – and provided new language in order to be more accessible to other cultural, racial/ethnic, and non-English-speaking candidates. The candidate, along with a candidacy mentor, will study resources determined by the annual conference Board of Ordained Ministry. The requirement for completion and release of psychological assessment reports, and criminal background and credit checks remains; however, the new paragraph will state that district committees "shall seek ways to consider cultural and ethnic/racial realities in meeting these requirements."
Following one year as a certified candidate, and with half the educational requirements, one is eligible to be commissioned and become a "provisional" member: language that was changed from "probationary member." Provisional members will follow a "residency curriculum" of theological education, covenant groups, and mentoring with evaluation by their district superintendent and Board of Ordained Ministry – then will become eligible for ordination. Provisional members will be appointed by a bishop to serve a minimum of two years (reduced from three) following the completion of all educational requirements, and language was added to make it clear that they "may be appointed to attend school, to extension ministry, or in appointments beyond the local church."
• Delegates created a new 24-member standing committee on Faith and Order to help bishops and the church reflect on matters of faith, doctrinal teaching, order, and discipline. The group also will provide study materials upon the request of the bishops, the Connectional Table, or General Conference. The estimated cost of $287,000 will be funded through existing funds within the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns and the General Board of Higher Education of Ministry.
• General Conference raised the retirement age of bishops. Currently bishops are required to retire if they reach age 66 on or before July 1 in a year when jurisdictional conferences are held. The assembly raised that age to 68 effective upon the adjournment of the 2008 General Conference.
• If annual conferences ratify the amendment, then local churches, jurisdictional and General Conference, "organizations, groups, committees, councils, boards and agencies" will have to adopt ethics and conflict-of-interest policies. These policies will apply to both members and employees to help them "embody and live out our Christian values."
• If annual conferences approve the amendment, deacons, associate members and provisional members may join ordained ministerial members in full connection in voting for delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences. To be eligible to vote, local pastors must have completed the Course of Study or master of divinity degree and have served under appointment for two consecutive years immediately preceding an election. Only ordained members in full connection with an annual conference may serve as delegates.
• The general commissions on Religion and Race (GCORR) and the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) collaborated for the first time in training and deploying a diverse, multiracial group of 27 lead monitors and 28 student monitors from Claremont and Garrett-Evangelical theological seminaries – to report on the racial/ethnic and gender inclusiveness in General Conference sessions. Monitors attended legislative committees, sub-groups, and plenary sessions, observing the discussions and reporting the gender, race, age, and ethnicity of those who attended, along with who led or presented and who spoke in sessions. They also tracked whether participants were disabled, clergy or lay, and whether from