Pastoral Letter Regarding General Conference

June 4, 2024

Dear Peachtree Road Family,

I hope you are well. At the end of May, our Administrative Board met and received an overview of decisions made at the recent General Conference and their possible impact upon our congregation. I am writing to share with you a pastoral letter concerning that meeting.

To give you a little context, the General Conference is the top lawmaking assembly of the United Methodist Church and the only entity that speaks for the denomination. It convenes every four years; however, due to the COVID pandemic, a regular General Conference had not been held in 8 years. Elected delegates representing each region from around the world met in Charlotte, North Carolina from April 23-May 3 to conduct the business of the church.

The following are 10 important decisions made at the General Conference:

1.  Regionalization Petitions Approved – restructures the denomination to be more contextual in ministry while remaining connected around the mission of the church and the essentials of the faith. This is a constitutional amendment and requires approval by 2/3 of the votes cast at all Annual Conferences worldwide.

2.  Removal of Restrictive Language related to LGBTQ people – this brings the Book of Discipline to a neutral place to ensure that one group will not be singled out for discrimination. This position holds space for differing opinions within the UMC by avoiding broad mandates.

3.  Revision of Social Principles Approved – this is the first revision in nearly 50 years. The Social Principles are statements that reflect official United Methodist teachings on a wide range of topics. They are not church law but are intended to inform United Methodist witness on issues of the day with a biblical foundation.

4.  Apportionment Percentage Decreased – in an effort to balance funding important connectional ministries through the general church budget and supporting the local church during financial challenges, delegates approved a shift from the current base of 3.29% to a base rate of 2.6%.

5.  Quadrennial Budget Approved – the budget for 2025-2028 is set for $353.6 million, which is 42% less than the $604 million budget approved by the 2016 General Conference.

6.  Approved allowing deacons to preside at the Sacraments in their appointments – beginning January 1, 2025, deacons will be able to preside at the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Baptism in the churches to which they are appointed with the permission of the pastor in charge.

7.  Approved a constitutional amendment addressing the denomination’s commitment to eradicating racism – this also is a constitutional amendment and will require approval by 2/3 of all voting members of the Annual Conferences worldwide.

8.  Approved a new retirement plan for clergy members in the United States – the new retirement plan (Compass) is a “defined contribution plan” and will take effect in 2026.

9.  Approved a full communion agreement with the Episcopal Church – if the Episcopal Church affirms the agreement in 2027, it opens the possibility of United Methodist pastors serving appointments in the Episcopal Church and vice-versa.

10.  Reduced the number of bishops in the US from 39 to 32 and increased the number of bishops in Africa from 13 to 15 – an amendment to the original motion stipulates that there will be a minimum of 5 bishops in each of the 5 jurisdictions in the United States. A separate motion to set term limits for bishops was referred for further study and will come to the next General Conference.

General Conference went further and moved faster than I would have anticipated. I expected a “two-step” process in which delegates would embrace regionalization, restructuring, and budget issues this year and address the restrictive language in 2028.

Concerning the impact these decisions will have upon the ministry of Peachtree Road UMC, let me make two observations.

First, as it pertains to the removal of the restrictive language, our clergy now have the authority to officiate at weddings as they so choose. For the most part, this is not something new. In the United Methodist Church, clergy have always had the authority to say “yes” or “no” to officiating at a wedding. That authority now extends to same-sex weddings. I want you to know I trust the judgment of our associate ministers and will support them in their decisions. As it pertains to weddings at our church, it is within the purview of the Board of Trustees to set policies concerning the use of church space. I will be working with the Board in the fall to craft policies that reflect the values of Peachtree Road UMC.

Second, none of the decisions made at General Conference will change the overall ministry of Peachtree Road UMC. You will not notice any changes in our worship services, Sunday School classes, Bible studies, or outreach ministries. We will continue to generously offer God’s grace which is prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying. Our church is a very large congregation with a diversity of people; and, yet, in the midst of diversity there is a deep sense of unity. We are united in our mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We are united in our adherence to our core values:

  • Passion for excellence in ministry
  • Take the Bible seriously
  • Generous in outreach
  • Offer warm traditional hospitality to all
  • Open to innovation

And we are united in our commitment to God and one another. As a result, our church has flourished through the years. There is an old saying: “Wherever the Lord builds a church, the devil builds a chapel.” It serves as a warning that wherever God’s kingdom is flourishing, the devil shows up and tries to distract folks and even instigates arguments to pull God’s children away from one another and their primary mission. Our unity is not based upon our agreement on the interpretation of a handful of biblical passages but upon our faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and our love for one another.

Recently in the sermon I talked about my first trip to the Holy Land. One of the highlights of the trip was a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. We set out at dawn. Out in the middle of the water, the captain shut off the engine, and we gently rocked with the ripples of the water. In that moment I imagined Jesus in the boat with his disciples when a storm swept down upon the water…how they awoke Jesus and asked, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus spoke those calming words, “Peace be still,” and all was quiet. I confess that sometimes I can relate to those disciples. There is a storm raging in the church, and I cry out to Jesus for help. However, on that day on the Sea of Galilee a different thought came to mind. There are times when we are called to be Jesus. When the storms are raging in people’s lives, we are the ones who speak the words of healing and hope: “Peace be still.” Every time there has been a crisis, God has inspired folks at Peachtree Road UMC to step up and make a difference. It now is our turn. It is our time. It is easy to see the storm and become frightened. Let us keep our eyes upon Jesus…and be at peace.

If ever you have questions or concerns, do not hesitate to reach out to me. I would love to talk with you.

Grace and peace,