Dozens of Nashville area United Methodists have arrived in Tampa, Fla., for today's start of the 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church. This is the top legislative body for the 11 million member global denomination and will be setting church policy for the next four years.
There are nearly 1,000 delegates to the conference from around the world, including eight from Middle Tennessee. These persons have reviewed pages and pages of reports and proposed legislation throughout the past year. Soon, they will be entering into committee debates and making formal decisions on resolutions and policy changes that will remain in effect at least until General Conference meets again four years later.
Every regional delegation includes an equal number of clergy and lay persons. The clergy representing Middle Tennessee are Harriet Bryan, pastor of Salem UMC, Clarksville; Stephen Handy, pastor of McKendree UMC, Nashville; Max Mayo, senior pastor of Cookeville First UMC; and A. Lynn Hill, senior pastor of Franklin First UMC. The lay delegates are James R. Allen, Tennesee Conference treasurer; C. Don Ladd, former chair of the Southeastern Jurisdiction Lay Speaking Ministries; Opal Ransom, chair of the Tennessee Conference Council Office of Connectional Ministries; and Cornelia Clark, Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Along with these delegates will be many more support persons, legislative advocates, media and interested observers. Nashville is home to most of the top general church agencies, and these agencies have sent many of their personnel to track legislation, provide information to delegates and promote their own perspectives on the issues before the delegates.
One of the most talked about pieces of legislation would restructure these agencies, putting most of them under a single governing board. There are many alternatives to this legislation that would be less extensive in scope.
Other major proposals before the conference include changes in the understanding of ordination and clergy status. Questions about sexuality also have regularly received significant debate at every General Conference since 1972.
It is also important to note that there will be regular times for the delegates and other attendees to worship together. Worship at General Conference regularly highlights the many gifts God has given to musicians and worship leaders around the world.
Tonight's opening worship begins at 4 p.m. EDT (3 p.m. CDT). Anyone may watch the service live online.