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Fort Worth selected as site for 2008 General Conference

10/9/2001

ROSEMONT, Ill. (UMNS) - The group responsible for planning the United Methodist Church's 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh took time during its May 3-4 meeting to choose the site for the 2008 gathering.

The Convention Center in Fort Worth, Texas, was unanimously chosen by the 16-member Commission on the General Conference after a site selection sub-group reported on visits to three Texas cities: Houston, San Antonio and Fort Worth.

Gary Bowen, General Conference manager, said finding a location for the international event is difficult because of its 10-day length and because of the large number of hotel and meeting rooms required. "We were very fortunate that in Texas the three cities we considered had more than adequate facilities for our conference," he said. Traditionally the site rotates among the church's five U.S. jurisdictions. The most recent conference was held in Cleveland in May 2000.

The projected budget for the 2004 conference is $5.5 million, nearly $2 million of which is earmarked for travel, lodging and meals of the delegates. Held every four years, the conference includes no more than 1,000 delegates: half clergy, half laity. About 225 of the delegates to the Pittsburgh conference, set for April 26-May 7, 2004, are expected to come from outside the United States.

Legislation approved by the delegates is included in a revised Book of Discipline. Delegates also determine the official positions of the church on a wide spectrum of social issues, which go into a revised Book of Resolutions.

The church has 8.4 million members in the Unites States and more than 1 million in Europe, Africa and Asia. Bishops of the church -- 67 active and about 60 retired -- attend the conference, and individual bishops preside over business sessions but they do not vote.

Chairman of the Commission on the General Conference for the 2001-2004 quadrennium is the Rev. James Perry of Minneapolis.

During their sessions at an O'Hare area hotel, the commission made several decisions leading up to the 2004 conference in Pittsburgh and struggled with ways to make the conference more meaningful and effective.

The commission voted to invite President George W. Bush, a United Methodist, to address the conference, along with any other United Methodist head of state. The only other person currently fitting that criterion is Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, a United Methodist who has been a delegate to two General Conferences.

United Methodist individuals and groups petition each General Conference for legislative changes. In 2000, more than 2,000 petitions were submitted. In order to be fair in the processing the petitions, the commission voted to ask the church's Judicial Council for a declaratory decision on the meaning, application or effect of the phrase "organization of the United Methodist Church" in Paragraph 507 of the church's Book of Discipline. That sentence says "any organization, clergy member or lay member of the United Methodist Church may petition the General Conference... " Deadline for petitions will be Nov. 29, 2003. The commission is also working on a new electronic program for tracking petitions.

The commission is asking United Methodists to suggest a theme and logo for the 2004 conference. Suggestions and artistic representations must be submitted no later than Feb. 15, 2002, to Gary Bowen, GCFA, 1200 Davis St., Evanston, IL 60201-4193.

The commission plans to select a music director during its spring 2002 meeting. Individuals interested in applying may contact Bowen by phone at (847) 425-6556; by e-mail at gbowen@gcfa.org; or by mail at 1200 Davis St., Evanston, IL 60201-4193.

The commission, with the assistance of a large local host committee, is already at work planning for delegates who do not speak English. Conferences in recent years have always provided simultaneous translations in several languages during plenary sessions, but the 2000 General Conference delegates asked that printed materials also be available to delegates in six languages, including English. Commission members discussed at length the feasibility of that request.

Roland Siegrist of Linz, Austria was among those arguing that the translation of such printed material as petitions is impractical. "Many delegates (from outside the United States) would never ask for this because they know it would cost too much," he said. "Most are able to use English."

He noted that in the central conferences (outside the United States) where delegates have many different languages, one is chosen as the 'working language' during the sessions. "To set higher standards than you have at home I think is questionable," he said. The Rev. Marie-Sol Villalon, a commission member, noted that in her own Philippines Central Conference, English is the working language used by all.

"Central conference members aren't asking for six languages," said Aileen Williams of Rochester, Minn. "International conferences usually operate with three. That is doable." She and others on the commission voiced a strong commitment to simultaneous translation during plenary and legislative sessions and individual translators who can work with people from the time they arrive at the Pittsburgh airport to make them feel comfortable. The unresolved question is how much material can be printed in six languages.

Siegrist was particularly vocal about the impracticality of translating into non-English language petitions that are proposing changes in English texts in the Book of Discipline.

On the afternoon before their regular meeting, commission members met with representatives of the Council of Bishops and the Committee on the Plan of Organization and Rules of the General Conference. Their common concern was how to make the conference more manageable, effective and meaningful.

"We broke down assumptions one group had of another," observed Williams. "We discovered we are thinking alike. We all agreed it is time to do something and that we need to work together."

An ad-hoc team representing the three groups was created to look at some legislative and rules changes that might improve the conference. The Rev. Gail Murphy-Geiss of Aurora, Colo., was selected to chair the group.

A major topic discussed by representatives of the three groups was "Christian conferencing."

Murphy-Geiss expressed regret that the conference's primary activity has become the management of petitions. "How can we recapture Christian conferencing?" she asked. Working on 100 meaningful petitions might be more important than thousands that deal with minutia, she said.

She also noted that parliamentary processes are "actually hindering Christian conferencing." Aside from the creation of the ad-hoc committee, the group asked the bishops to consider the development of a paper or guidelines on Christian conferencing.

Delegates measure their success by their ability to make it through the huge number of petitions, Williams said. "They judge their effectiveness by the fact that they were handled, no matter how they were handled." She also suggested the Council of Bishops "hold up a vision as to what it (Christian conferencing) could be."

Bishop Elias Galvan, president of the Council of Bishops, said a need exists for greater clarity around what is the appropriate role of the bishops at the General Conference and how they can lead the church in shaping its mission.

The commission members also agreed that greater efforts should be made to keep the Council of Bishops "in the loop" before and during the conference.
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