PANAMA CITY, Panama | The secretary of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, the Rev. L. Fitzgerald Reist, announced Nov. 5 that the number of delegates for the 2012 General Conference will be near the 1,000-delegate limit.
"Although a variety of opinions have been expressed, I've heard strong pleas to retain similar numbers as before, and I believe any significant reduction in the number of delegates should occur in concert with a more comprehensive look at the whole process," said Reist. "It’s essential that we not undermine the level of trust. With so many substantive changes expected to be considered during the 2012 General Conference, it is important to avoid any perception that a reduction in the number of delegates might somehow be intended to influence outcomes."
Reist said he considered numerous factors during the decision-making process, consulted with many others, made himself available for discussion with the Council of Bishops and the Commission on the General Conference, held conversations with diverse bodies, and spent endless hours in prayer and meditation.
The exact number of delegates will not be available until calculations have been completed, but the secretary of each Annual Conference will be notified by December 1 as to how many delegates their Conference will have. The number of delegates per Annual Conference will be calculated based on the requirement for one lay and one clergy delegate for each Annual Conference, with additional delegates assigned proportionately according to the total clergy and lay membership per Conference.
The Constitution of The United Methodist Church allows for the General Conference to have anywhere from 600 to 1,000 delegates. Because the formula provided within Church law for the distribution of delegates currently allocates more than 1,000 delegates, the formula must be adjusted to bring the total within that range. In October 2009, the Judicial Council issued a decision stating that the secretary of the General Conference has the authority to "determine the number of delegates that each Annual and Missionary Conference will elect to General Conference within the provisions of the Constitution and the legislative enactments of the General Conference."
Reist says there's more thought to be given to these issues in the future; the size of the General Conference has an obvious financial impact, and costs will continue to increase. The 2012 General Conference is expected to cost more than $8.3 million, and a reduction in the number of delegates could yield significant savings
"The General Conference could revise the formula so that the delegate numbers change automatically, give specific guidance about the factors to be considered in the decision-making process, or they could assign to a larger body the responsibility for determining the number of delegates, who would also be given some flexibility for changing the number in the face of economic difficulties," said Reist.
A decision about the number of delegates was delayed in part because of a request from the South Carolina Annual Conference for a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council concerning the secretary's authority to calculate the number of delegates to be elected by each Annual Conference. At their fall meeting, the Judicial Council said it has no jurisdiction to act upon that request because the request did not "have a direct and tangible effect on the work of the" South Carolina Conference.
Rev. Reist was elected as Secretary of the General Conference by the 2004 and 2008 General Conferences upon nomination by the Council of Bishops. He is the pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
About General Conference
The General Conference is the top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church, and meets once every four years to consider revisions to Church law, as well as adopt resolutions on current moral, social, public policy, and economic issues. It also approves plans and budgets for Churchwide programs for the next four years. The 2012 meeting will take place April 24-May 4 at the Tampa (Florida) Convention Center.