The Road to St. Louis

February 06, 2019

By Cate Monaghan
Interim Communications Director

The special called 2019 session of General Conference begins in two weeks, in St. Louis. The time frame is compressed – just three days – but the significance of the gathering would be difficult to overstate. During their time at The Dome at the America’s Center Convention Complex, delegates from all over the world will attempt to decide on a United Methodist Church structure that preserves unity while accommodating diverse theological perspectives on the issue of human sexuality.

The delegates en masse will function as both a single committee and as plenary; in the first role they will consider each of 78 petitions that the Committee on Reference has determined qualify for consideration and advance the ones they wish to consider in their capacity as plenary.

The petitions represent variations on four approaches:

  • Traditional – maintaining the stance that self-avowed practicing homosexuals may not be ordained and that same-sex marriages may not be performed by UMC clergy;
  • Simple Plan – reversing the denomination’s current stance on homosexuality; it is the polar opposite to Traditionalist;
  • One Church – sanctioned by the Council of Bishops, Western Jurisdiction bishops, the California-Nevada Conference extended cabinet, the California-Nevada delegation and all other Western Jurisdiction delegations, this plan would remove the prohibition against ordination of practicing homosexuals and would allow individual churches and clergy to make decisions based on personal conscience;
  • Congregational Conference – a plan that would allow annual conferences, churches, and clergy to align themselves with a jurisdiction that represents their own theological view, regardless of geography. The Judicial Council has ruled that this proposal would require several constitutional amendments; it would take several years to implement.
UMNews hosted a panel discussion with spokespersons for the four proposals this week. It is available to watch here.

Panelists for the discussion, called “Perspectives on a Way Forward,” were the Rev. Mark Holland, representing the One Church Plan; the Rev. Rob Renfroe, on behalf of the Traditional and Modified Traditional Plans; the Rev. Chris Ritter, for the Connectional Conference Plan; and the Rev. Althea Spencer-Miller, representing the Simple Plan.

Prepare with Prayer
As you prepare to take to the road to St. Louis with us – at least metaphorically – we urge you to take advantage of that resource, as well as many others available – to educate yourself about the options to be considered, along with the possible outcomes of this gathering and their inherent ramifications.

We also urge you to pray that Feb. 23-26 will be a time of holy conferencing, led by the power of the Holy Spirit rather than by personal agenda. Please pray for our bishop and for our delegation.

February, in fact, marks Phase 3 of the Praying Our Way Forward initiative promoted by the bishops and The Upper Room. In Phase 3, all United Methodists are invited to:
  1. Engage in a weekly Wesleyan 24-hour fast from Thursday after dinner to Friday mid-afternoon. Those who have health situations causing food fasts to be unadvisable might consider fasting from social media, emails or another daily activity.
  2. Pause and pray for our church’s mission and way forward daily for four minutes, from 2:23 through 2:26 (a.m. or p.m.) in their own time zone – times chosen to mark the fact that the special session of General Conference will be held from Feb. 23 (2/23) to Feb. 26 (2/26). You may choose another time if 2:23-2:26 is not feasible.
  3. Pray using a weekly prayer calendar that will be posted on the website through the end of February 2019. The calendar will list a unique cluster of names each week. The names will balance United States bishops and delegates with Central Conference bishops and delegates. It will also include General Secretaries, Commission on a Way Forward members, the Commission of the General Conference, and the staff of the General Conference.
General Conference itself will begin with a Day of Prayer. Download the schedule here.
Prepare with Care
Among other resources available for individuals and churches are:

2019 General Conference Communications Toolkit – gives churches numerous resources to help them cover topics ranging from the structure of the church to details of what happens during the three-day legislative meeting. 

A free online course, Exploring General Conference, is available from United Methodist Church Training through March 1.

A downloadable version of the Advance edition of the Daily Christian Advocate (ADCA), which contains the agenda for the 2019 meeting, all the petitions, and reports from the general agencies/commissions and study committees, is available here. You may purchase a bound copy from Cokesbury.

The California-Nevada Communications Office has created a 2019 General Conference site on the conference website, We add material frequently To access it, click on General Conference 2019, located immediately below Bishop’s Message on the right side of the home page. On the GC2019 site you’ll find a collection of news stories and commentaries that you may find helpful (click on “more news & info” to see the complete list), along with Quick Links to several critical resources, including: Click on the Commission on a Way Forward Quick Link to read the complete text of those plans in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, or Swahili.

Prepare to Be There!
Plan to watch General Conference. The event will be streamed by United Methodist Communications in its entirety – beginning with worship on Saturday, Feb. 23 at 7:00 a.m. (Pacific) and ending with adjournment at 4:30 p.m. (PST) on Tuesday, Feb. 26. That livestream will be available online in both English and French.