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What is General Conference all about?

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communications, Dakotas Conference

Delegates to the 2016 General Conference from the Dakotas and Minnesota Conferences pray in this file photo. Photos by David Stucke, Dakotas Conference Communications.

February 23-26, 2019, delegates from around the world will converge on St. Louis, MO, for a special General Conference. The delegates will seek a way forward for our denomination on the issues surrounding human sexuality.

The Dakotas Conference will send a delegation of four. Rev. Rebecca Trefz, director of ministries for the Dakotas Conference is the head of the delegation and the clergy delegate. Beata Ferris, a member of Pierre First UMC will serve as the lay delegate. Rev. Roger Spahr, district superintendent for the Southeast District in the Dakotas Conference, will attend as the alternate clergy delegate to General Conference. Matt Bader, a member of Pierre First UMC, will head to St. Louis as the alternate lay delegate. You can contact the Dakotas conference delegation at

Here are some basics about the General Conference and the 2019 special session. 

Large video screens were necessary at General Conference 2016 for the thousands of attendees to participate in the discussions and voting, follow the presentations, and worship together.

What is General Conference? Every four years, United Methodists from around the world assemble as the General Conference and connect in worship, prayer, Communion, fellowship – and the legislative work that shapes our shared life. General Conference delegates confer and vote on proposals for resourcing and regulating the life and work of The United Methodist Church. General Conference sets the rules and establishes procedures for virtually every aspect of the church’s life. It also communicates the denomination’s official position on a variety of issues and cultural challenges. General Conference makes binding decisions related to the connectional and missional life of The United Methodist Church. It is the only body authorized to speak for or as The United Methodist Church.

Who decides to have a special session of General Conference? The constitution of The United Methodist Church provides that the Council of Bishops (all active and retired bishops) may call a special session of General Conference as can the General Conference itself. Any call must state the purpose of the special session. (¶14, The Book of Discipline 2016).

Some votes at General Conference 2016 were taken by hand, and some were taken with wireless electronic voting devices at each table.

What do delegates do? Delegates pray, worship and fellowship together. They spend most of their time listening, deliberating, discussing and voting on legislation ordering the ministry and connectional life of the global United Methodist Church. This includes considering legislation proposed to revise/reaffirm the rules and polity of The United Methodist Church (published in The Book of Discipline). Delegates also approve resolutions that become the official positions of the church (The Book of Resolutions). Delegates also serve in legislative committees and sub-groups, making decisions on the matters before them based on their conscience as moved by the Holy Spirit.

Delegates pray often during the proceedings at General Conference, for the Holy Spirit to guide them in their debate, discernment, and decision-making.

What is the process for making decisions and how is voting done at General Conference? Delegates will vote on motions and amendments on petitions included in three plans in the Commission on a Way Forward report and other petitions from individuals and groups of United Methodists. Fifty-one petitions, besides those included in the Commission’s report, were submitted by the deadline. The rules approved for the 2016 General Conference (found in the 2016 Daily Christian Advocate Handbook for Delegates, p. 16) will guide the initial conference deliberations. They may be amended or suspended. Delegates will use electronic, smartcard-enabled devices to cast their secret ballots and to request recognition to address the assembly.

These are just a few of the questions that people have. Read all of the frequently asked questions here.

A Dakotas Conference communications team will also be on the ground in St. Louis.  You can expect email summaries and features, plus real-time coverage on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more.

United Methodist Communications has created a training course, available to individuals at no cost, that incorporates articles, quizzes, and multi-media interaction to help you better understand the importance and function of General Conference. This self-directed online course is available through March 1st. Enroll in the Exploring General Conference training course here.


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