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Double duty for delegates

Michigan’s delegates to the 2016 General Conference will go to St. Louis in February, 2019.

Senior Editor-Writer, Michigan Area

In 2014 the West Michigan Annual Conference elected their delegates to the 2016 General Conference in Portland. A year later, in 2015, the Detroit Annual Conference delegation was elected. Little did anyone know at the time that those persons would be attending two sessions of The General Conference. (See footnote for names of those elected.)

Those delegates arrived in Portland, Oregon for duty May 10-20, 2016. That was expected. However, on May 18th the General Conference “hit the pause button” in the words of Joey Butler of the United Methodist News Service. Butler reported:

Late afternoon May 18, delegates voted to accept the recommendation of the Council of Bishops to delay a debate on homosexuality at this gathering of the denomination’s top legislative assembly and let a proposed commission study church regulations … Now the newly created body will study every paragraph in the Book of Discipline related to human sexuality and possibly recommend revisions … The bishops also suggested they might call a special General Conference in 2018 or 2019 to deal with such proposals.

By October 2016 the Council of Bishops had named the Commission on a Way Forward. An organizational meeting was held in January 2017 with 32 members present from nine countries. Click here for links to all reports of the Commission’s work to date. Then in April 2017 the Council made the call to a special General Conference set for February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri. The session will be limited to acting on a report by the Council of Bishops, based on the proposals from the Commission on a Way Forward.

Annual Conferences had the option of sending their delegates to the 2016 General Conference to the called session in 2019 or electing another set of delegates. When the 2017 Michigan Conference met in Acme earlier this month, members to both the West Michigan and Detroit Annual Conferences voted to send their 2016 delegates to St. Louis.

MIConnect recently spoke with Michigan’s two chairs of delegations, Rev. Dr. Charles Boayue (Detroit) and Nichea VerVeer Guy (West Michigan) about next steps toward General Conference 2019.

Rev. Dr. Charles Boayue addressing the 2016 General Conference in Portland, OR. ~mic photo/Mark Doyal

Boayue noted: “The actions of our Annual Conference is consistent with the intent of the Book of Discipline that delegates are elected to serve a full quadrennium.” He went on to say that he felt it would not have been a wise decision to act on the option to elect and send others. “These persons are fulfilling their four-year responsibility,” he said, “and they were among delegates who authorized the forming of the Commission. This provides continuity and consistency on an important issue of our time.”

Charles added, “If past practice holds, I will summon the Detroit Conference delegates to come together once the report is released and after they have had a chance to review it.” At this time the release date of the report from the Council of Bishops is uncertain. However, Boayue said, “We anticipate receiving the report in a timeframe that allows our delegates to act with due diligence.” He asks the Michigan Area to continue to pray. “The Church has seen schisms and engaged in major theological debates before,” Charles observed. “This will not be the first or the last time. But God’s is active in history before, during and after the General Conference and we must rely on the truth that the whole world is in God’s hands.”

Nichea Guy reported that delegates have received the book published by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, Unity of the Church and Human Sexuality. “All delegates are asked to read up in preparation for our time together in February.” Click here for more about the book and a study guide that facilitates its use in small group settings.

Guy also noted that delegates are being encouraged to consider their role upon return to their home conferences. “We go to St. Louis as delegates,” she said, “but we should then be ready to engage others around the results of the process.” She also shared a reminder that the 2019 General Conference takes place only 3-4 months before most annual conferences will be electing the delegates who will take the next steps forward at the 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis.

It is yet to be determined how any from the present delegations will travel to St. Louis. The practices of the West Michigan and Detroit conferences differ in terms of the number of alternates who attend General Conference. The West Michigan Conference has one lay and one clergy on the floor voting at any given time; Detroit Conference has three lay and three clergy. West Michigan will adjust its representation in light of the election of its clergy delegate, Rev. Laurie Haller, to the episcopacy.

Nichea believes that the more conversation the better and looks forward to listening sessions that Bishop Bard will schedule this fall. “Both Kennetha Bigham-Tsai and I want to hear from people. As delegates, we vote our own conscience, but we want the people of West Michigan to know that I want to express their views during the dialogue in St. Louis as well.”

MIConnect will continue to publish updates on the work of the Commission on a Way Forward and news from the Council of Bishops regarding the called session as they become available.

West Michigan’s General Conference Delegates and Alternates: Delegation Chair Nichea VerVeer Guy (delegate), Rev. Kenneth Bigham-Tsai (delegate), Laurie Dahlman (1st lay alternate), Rev. Benton Heisler (1st clergy alternate), Laura Witkowski (2nd lay alternate), and Rev. John Boley (2nd clergy alternate).

Detroit’s General Conference Delegates and Alternates: Delegation Chair Rev. Dr. Charles Boayue (delegate), Rev. Joy Barrett (delegate), Rev. Melanie Carey (delegate), Jackie Euper (delegate), Wayne Bank (delegate), Diane Brown (delegate), Rev. Megan Walther (1st clergy alternate), Alex Plum (1st lay alternate), Rev. Matt Hook (2nd clergy alternate), and Claudia Bowers (2nd lay alternate).

The Michigan Conference