By Jessica Connor
South Carolina will send two fewer people to General Conference in 2012, but the total is far more than it could have been.
General Conference Secretary the Rev. L. Fitzgerald Reist announced that S.C. has been allotted 18 delegates to the quadrennial legislative gathering for the United Methodist Church, set for April 24-May 4, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. Nine of the 18 are to be clergy delegates, and nine are laity.
Those elected General Conference delegates will also serve as delegates to the Jurisdictional Conference, set for July 17-21, 2012, at Lake Junaluska, N.C. An additional group, nine clergy and nine lay, also will be elected to serve as delegates to Jurisdictional, giving S.C. a total representation of 36 delegates to that gathering.
The Rev. Timothy Rogers, secretary of the S.C. Conference, explained that while this number is a reduction from 2008 (when S.C. sent 20 delegates to General Conference and 40 delegates to Jurisdictional), it was expected.
“As the United Methodist Church grows overseas, and more delegates are elected from the Central Conferences, fewer delegates are available to represent conferences within the United States,” Rogers said.
Rogers said Reist had contemplated reducing the number of delegates to General Conference even further. On behalf of the S.C. Conference, Rogers filed a brief at the Judicial Council’s fall meeting, questioning Reist’s authority to do so, but the top court ruled it had no jurisdiction to rule on this. However, at the Nov. 5 Council of Bishops’ gathering in Panama, Reist announced the number of delegates for the 2012 GC will be near the 1,000-delegate limit, stating any significant reduction in the number of delegates should occur in concert with a more comprehensive look at the whole process.
The election process begins
Now work begins on the election, which will be held at Annual Conference in June.
For lay delegates, those interested in being a delegate should go to the Conference Board of Laity website (www.umcsc.org/boardoflaity ) and download the nomination form, which they must complete and return to the district superintendent by Jan. 10.
During the month of January, each district will hold training sessions so lay delegates can learn the process for selecting delegates and nominate delegates from their district to go on the ballot at Annual Conference. Each district can nominate as many as 10 delegates.
Names and biographies of delegate nominees will go to the Conference Secretary and will ultimately become a part of the Pre-Conference Journal that people can study prior to Annual Conference, when lay delegates will be voted on.
“I encourage anyone with an interest and passion for the church [to submit a nomination form] because of the fact that General Conference is when you actually make changes to the Book of Discipline,” said Conference Lay Leader Joseph Heyward. “It’s very important. It’s also a major commitment – it’s time consuming, there is a great body of work to read and study, and there is also a two-week commitment.”
For clergy delegates, the conference has posted on its website (www.umcsc.org ) a list of all clergy who are eligible to be elected. The Office of the Conference Secretary also has sent a letter to each clergy member who is eligible to be elected, notifying them of their eligibility.
This year, those clergy not interested in serving as a delegate may have their name removed from the ballot by asking the Conference Secretary to omit their name. Pre-printed cards to assist clergy in making that request were included in the letter sent to each eligible clergy person.
“Reducing the number of names listed on the ballots is designed to simplify and speed up the balloting process,” Rogers said.
More representative voting?
For clergy, another significant change in the process this year is that, for the first time, provisional members, associate members and some local pastors will be allowed to vote for clergy delegates. All provisional members and all associate members will be permitted to vote at Annual Conference, although they are not eligible for election.
Also, local pastors may vote (although they may not be elected) if they have completed either a master of divinity or the Basic Course of Study, and they must have served a minimum of two consecutive years under appointment immediately preceding the election.
Both full-time and part-time local pastors who meet those requirements may vote.