In a wild and often confusing meeting that went into overtime, the General Administration committee of the UMC’s General Conference failed to agree on an agency reconstruction plan to send to the full body of delegates.
At about 10 p.m. Saturday, the committee took a last vote on whether to recommend the plan put forward by the Methodist Federation for Social Action.
The vote was 32 for and 35 against, with five abstentions.
A little earlier, committee members voted to send the plan dubbed “Plan B,” in its original form, on for consideration. But that vote was ruled out of order.
The Connectional Table/Interim Operations Team plan – the most sweeping, calling for a single board and consolidation of most agencies – made a late reappearance after seeming to be dead in earlier committee sessions. But it failed to get a majority vote for recommendation.
The room was packed with agency executives and other observers, some using social media to communicate their amazement (or worse) as those running the meeting struggled to keep track of where things stood and what was up for consideration as deadline approached.
Fitzgerald Reist, secretary of the General Conference, made the call to allow the meeting to extend beyond the 9:30 p.m. deadline called for in the rules.
“I chose not to interrupt a vote that was in process, which is fairly standard procedure,” he said. “I did not allow them to introduce new actions. I just allowed them to finish the actions that were in process.
“Technically, I could have said, `It’s 9:30. You’re done. It’s unfinished.’ I may be challenged on that. If I am, all I can say is I was trying to follow the spirit, if not the letter, of the law.”
Though the committee couldn’t agree on a plan to recommend, the restructuring fight is not over for this General Conference.
Backers of the CT/IOT plan said they would use the rules process whereby 20 delegates ask to have legislation considered in a plenary session.
““We’ve still got a lot of work to do. I don’t think it’s dead,” said Jay Brim, a laity member of the committee and Connectional Table member. “We’ll have our 20 votes.”
The MFSA plan could also be brought up that way.
Both those plans were printed in the Advanced Daily Christian Advocate – a prerequisite for consideration via the 20-delegate route. Plan B was not printed in the ADCA, but could be offered as a substitute motion.
Mr. Brim said, “I think there’s a real sentiment out there in the body for a plan. The question is whether any of us can pull together enough of a consensus around our concepts.”
Both Plan B and the MFSA plan would reduce the number of agency board seats, and achieve some agency consolidation. But only CT/IOT would bring all program agencies of the UMC under one board, led by an executive.
CT/IOT supporters argue that the current structure is dysfunctional, placing agencies in silos, and causing them to compete for scarce dollars. Consolidating them and coordinating their work with a focus on supporting local congregations is the way to go, they say.
But some critics question whether a single board, particularly a small one, could reflect the diversity of the church. And others distrust what they see as an unprecedented concentration of power in the denomination.
“I will never support one board, because I think it’s a violation of our polity, and who we are,” said the Rev. Tim McClendon, a delegate and General Administration Committee member from South Carolina. “Why have General Conference if you’re going to cede power to a single board?”
But Mr. McClendon said he would negotiate with CT/IOT supporters in hope of a compromise.
“I don’t want to leave this General Conference without doing something to enhance local church vitality,” he said.