Members and friends of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference (IGRC), as always, I greet you in the wonderful name of Jesus Christ.

The United Methodist General Commission on General Conference just announced the postponement of the 2020 General Conference until May 2024. This is the third time that this Conference has been postponed. The reason for the postponement is because we are a world-wide denomination and some of our delegates cannot obtain Visas in time to attend the General Conference as previously scheduled. The U.S. State Department officials stated that wait times for visa applicants could be more than 800 days because of COVID-related backlogs. 

The effects of the COVID pandemic continue to plague us. The commission named a technology study team to explore virtual options for the conference. However, the team’s report identified several obstacles to such a conference, including a 16-hour time difference among delegates in the Philippines and the West Coast. The commission also cited unequal internet availability and the difficulty in safeguarding voting as reasons the conference would need to be postponed.

Because the conference has been “postponed” and not canceled, one of the challenges facing us is determining whether the 2020 elected delegates will be seated at the 2024 General Conference or whether a new group of delegates will need to be elected. This is now a decision for the Judicial Council to make. There is nothing we can do or should be doing to address this issue. It will boil down to a matter of how The Book of Discipline is interpreted. The Judicial Council is responsible for final interpretation of the Discipline.

Another key issue that needs addressing is the issue of disaffiliation. The General Conference has pending legislation that would allow churches to leave the United Methodist denomination and unite with another denomination. This legislation, if approved, would relax the United Methodist “Trust Clause” and allow Congregations and Conferences the opportunity to keep property and assets and to leave gracefully. Annual Conferences have the final vote on whether a church can disaffiliate. Because the General Conference has been postponed there is currently no new legislation that has not been approved.

Shortly before the postponement of General Conference an announcement that a new denomination, the Global Methodist Church, plans to launch a new denomination on May 1, 2022. This announcement is NOT a part of the United Methodist legislative process and has not been approved by our denomination.

There is much tension and anxiety in an already overstressed and anxious denomination. I write today to offer a few words of counsel, comfort, and hope.

  • There is no need to panic! Your local church is not directly affected by any of these decisions. Keep your focus on ministry. Do not get distracted and take your eyes off of the mission.

  • The Judicial Council will make the decision regarding delegates and whether we continue with the 2020 elected delegates. Our Annual Conference will abide by the decision of the Judicial Council. Either way, we determine our representatives from the IGRC.

  • There is no need to get your congregation to make a decision about departing from the United Methodist Church. The Global Methodist Church does NOT have any agreement with the United Methodist Church and ALL ASSETS are still held “In Trust” and will not be released apart from our current annual conference disaffiliation process. Congregations do not need to make any decisions at this point.

  • Clergy and Laity are reminded that our vows are to uphold the church and not to harm the church in any way. Any individual can surrender their credentials or remove their membership at any time and for any reason. There is, however, no provision for folks wanting to separate and take people and property with them, apart from our disaffiliation process. My advice is to be patient because making a “rushed decision” could be costly and harmful to everyone.

  • Let’s focus on our mission! This is a great opportunity to share the GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ and to offer hope to a confused world. You just may be the only Jesus some folks will ever see. Lift up Jesus so that folks will come to his light.

Finally, sister and brothers, let us recommit ourselves to be the best representatives of Jesus Christ, and the IGRC, that we can be. Let us model for our denomination and for our communities what Christian love is all about. The apostle Paul reminds us that “Love does not demand its own way.” Love also promotes hope. Let us bear the good news that in spite of pandemic, the growing threat of a world war, the invasion in the Ukraine, problems on every hand, that Jesus Christ is still Lord, and he still has each of us in his capable loving hands.

I remain committed to serving all and loving all for the sake of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I invite each of you to do the same.

God Bless
Bishop Beard
P.O. Box 19207
Springfield, IL 62794-9207