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May 16 wrap-up: Week Two begins with elections, celebrations, protests

By Joey Butler

May 16, 2016 | PORTLAND, Ore. (UMNS)

Before tackling the pile of petitions before them, delegates to General Conference 2016 voted to fill vacancies in key positions on the Judicial Council, the University Senate and the Commission on General Conference. And then, voting officially began.

Opening worship

“God is the host for our “banquet,” be it General Conference or God’s “kingdom on earth,” Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey said in her sermon on May 16 at General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body.

The Louisiana Episcopal Area leader reminded those attending General Conference 2016 that God calls all to “bear fruit for God’s sake.” Preaching from Matthew 22:1-14 and the parable of the king’s wedding banquet, she said God invites people to come as they are, but not to stay as they are.

Commission on General Conference elections

The Rev. Gary W. Graves will be the new secretary of General Conference, succeeding the Rev. L. Fitzgerald “Gere” Reist II. Graves has served as petitions secretary of General Conference since 2004, and he is former conference secretary of the Kentucky Conference.

Others elected to the Commission on the General Conference are Betty Katiyo and the Rev. Mills Maliwa, Africa Central Conference; Phebe Cosmiano, Philippnes Central Conference; the Rev. Beth Ann Cook and the Rev. Gary George, North Central Jurisdiction; the Rev. Joseph DiPaolo, Northeastern Jurisdiction; the Rev. Laura Merrill and the Rev. Juliet Spencer, South Central Jurisdiction; Steven Furr, Southeastern Jurisdiction; and Marie Kuch-Stanovsky, Western Jurisdiction.

The lack of youth delegates among the 864 delegates to General Conference 2016 means that for the second time in a row, the commission that runs the denomination’s top legislative assembly won’t have a youth delegate.

Judicial Council elections

Delegates to General Conference 2016 filled open positions for two clergy and three lay members on the nine-member Judicial Council during elections on May 16.

The new clergy members are the Rev. Øyvind Helliesen of Norway and the Rev. Luan-Vu Tran of Lakewood, California. Elected as lay members were Ruben Reyes of Manila, Philippines; Deanell Reese Tacha of Lawrence, Kansas, and Lídia Romão Gulele of Maputo, Mozambique.

Judicial Council members are elected for eight-year terms, and four council members elected or re-elected in 2012 are still serving those terms.

University Senate elections

Elected to the University Senate are the Rev. Owan Kasap Tshibang, North-West Katanga Conference; the Rev. Djoman Nathanael Ohouo, Côte d’Ivoire Conference; the Rev. Bill T. Arnold, Kentucky Conference; and the Rev. David F. Watson, United Theological Seminary.

Plenary pauses for Black Lives Matter demonstration

Chanting “Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter,” close to 150 United Methodists swarmed the plenary floor at General Conference May 16 to voice concern for the oppressed and marginalized. Clergy and lay men and women of all races — many wearing the rainbow stoles that signify full inclusion for LGBTQ — carried a banner proclaiming, “All #BlackLivesMatter: bisexual, transgender, poor, heterosexual, lesbian, gay, disabled, women, men, youth and children.”

The demonstration began shortly after the 2 p.m. plenary session, presided over by Bishop Michael Coyner of the Indiana Episcopal Area. After demonstrators left the plenary, Coyner called for prayer before business resumed.

Votes of note

- General Conference 2016 delegates approved a petition to make Rwanda a provisional annual conference of The United Methodist Church.

- Delegates narrowly defeated an effort to add two bishops right away, in Nigeria and in Zimbabwe. Instead, they favored the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters to add five bishops after General Conference 2020.

- The Ministry Study Commission titled “Deepening the Theology of Ordination” passed on the first consent calendar. It provides clarity around the meaning of ordination, sacramental authority and the Holy Spirit’s role in that.

- The Rev. Stephen Wende, a Texas Conference delegate, made a motion asking to set aside everything but closing and opening prayers until the plenary considers all committee-approved petitions and “necessary elections.” His motion was referred to the Committee on Agenda, which recommended unanimously that there be no changes to the schedule.


As Africa University approaches its 25th anniversary, delegates to the 2016 General Conference took a few moments Monday afternoon to celebrate the Zimbabwean school. “You and The UMC have answered a call to witness through this transforming ministry,” Munashe Furusa, vice chancellor of Africa University, told delegates.

United Methodist Women called attention to the plight of poor and marginalized communities struggling with water contamination during a lunchtime rally May 16 at the Oregon Convention Center plaza. The event was part of the UMW Day celebration during General Conference, commemorating UMW’s upcoming 150th anniversary.

The May 16 session also contained celebrations for The United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the church’s Four Areas of Focus and the 250th anniversary of John Street Church in New York City. 

In other news

More than 1,500 United Methodist clergy have signed a letter stating they would refuse to fill the pulpit of a LGBTQ pastor who was removed for “God’s given sexual orientation or gender identity.”

United Methodist bishops have adopted a “Covenant of Accountability,” in which they pledge to work for church unity and remain in community with each other despite differences in Christian conscience.

Butler is a multimedia editor/producer for United Methodist Communications. Contact him atnewsdesk@umcom.org or 615-742-5470.


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