General Conference 2020 Overview

Greetings beloved church family! What a joy to be able to address you once again in this format. Some of you may recall that in 2019 I was elected by the lay members of the PNW Annual Conference to be a Reserve Delegate to the 2020 Jurisdictional Conference. That also meant being a part of the combined General/Jurisdictional Delegation from the PNW Conference. Of course, that commitment ended up being four years longer than any of us anticipated!

In November 2022, there was a special session called of Jurisdictional Conference in Salt Lake City, UT, in which we elected three new bishops, including our bishop, Cedrick Bridgeforth. At the time, I shared with you about the experience of being a part of that work. But, General Conference was not able to take place until this year.

Our PNW Conference is relatively small compared to many Annual Conferences, therefore we only have two seated voting members to General Conference (one clergy, one lay). We have one of each reserve and then on to Jurisdictional Conference delegates, of which we have five each. Finally, our conference has three Jurisdictional reserve delegates of each, though because of required postponements, we are down to two reserve clergy and one reserve lay member (me!). Because we are so few in numbers, our Conference made the decision to send all our main JC delegates to General Conference to be observers in legislative committees and help our seated GC delegates.

Starting on April 23rd, we were finally able to gather as a global body to hold the postponed 2020 General Conference (yes, in 2024) in Charlotte, NC. Because I am a reserve delegate to Jurisdictional Conference, I had not planned to attend. However, four days before the conference started, I was informed that another lay member of our team was unable to attend, and I was invited to go in her place. Wow, talk about short notice! Recognizing this was an opportunity I may never have again, I said yes to attending the first week of General Conference.

Our PNW Delegation had many conversations about our values and focus for General Conference over the last five years. A big focus came down to the Three Rs: Regionalization, Revised Social Principles, and Removal of Harmful Language.

Regionalization means that the United States would become its own region, allowing us to adapt certain parts of the Book of Discipline (the book that outlines the law, doctrine, administration, and organizational work of the UMC) to fit our ministry context. Central Conferences (areas outside of the US, including Africa, the Philippines, and Europe) have already had the ability to adapt the BOD for their contexts. With regionalization, Central Conferences would become regions as well. Ultimately this allows a global church to be a part of the same body, but not restricted to the context of only one part of the world. The regionalization legislation was approved at General Conference. Since it will involve an amendment to the church’s constitution, it will need ratification in each Annual Conference with at least two-thirds majority vote.

United Methodists around the world contributed to the 8-year process of updating the UMC’s written Social Principles. They are split into four sections and subsections of community: Community of All Creation (Creation in Peril, Stewardship of Creation), The Economic Community (Economic Challenges, Economic Justice), The Social Community (The Nurturing Community, Other Social Issues), and The Political Community (Government Responsibilities, Basic Rights and Freedoms). Delegates approved the revisions to the Social Principles, which marks the first overhaul of the document in almost 50 years.

For decades, LGBTQ+ persons have been called to ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church. But starting in 1972 restrictive language was present in the Book of Discipline that stated, “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” and that “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” could not be ordained. That led hundreds of God-called ministry candidates to live their life in the closet, give up on pursuing ordained ministry, or leave the church altogether, feeling unwelcomed and unwanted. Many faithful Christians disagree with that stance and the traditional view that has been held up for so long. In an historic move, the General Conference delegates voted overwhelmingly to remove the harmful language in the Book of Discipline.

Our PNW delegation is excited that our main items of focus were in agreement with the majority of delegates and therefore approved at General Conference. We also recognize that not all United Methodists agree on some of these topics. These decisions do not mean that the United Methodist Church is automatically a “progressive” denomination across the board. Rather, it means that we are an open and welcoming worldwide church that includes Christ-followers with a variety of views, joined together in our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I hope each of you will continue that journey with us.

These three topics of discussion were certainly not the only items of work at General Conference. If you’d like to read more about what was accomplished at GC, check out the resource page on the PNW website at:

Thanks for taking the time to read my (lengthy) reflections on General Conference 2020 (in 2024)! If you’d like to chat about anything that took place, I’d love to connect with you after church some Sunday.

Erin Tombaugh

1 Comment

Bob Wallin - May 13th, 2024 at 2:01pm

Blessings, Erin. It is so good to have you back amongst us and good to have you sharing your review of the proceedings. A very good summary.





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