By Keith Boyette
February 11, 2022
In recent weeks, there has been a notable increase in anxiety across The United Methodist Church. There is no mystery as to the reason. Will we or will we not have a General Conference from August 29-September 6, 2022? The Commission on General Conference (COGC) met on January 26. Emerging from a closed session, it made no announcement about a further postponement or cancelation of the conference. And since the COGC has also scheduled meetings for late February and late March, it is presumed United Methodists will definitively know by the end of the latter month whether the conference will meet in 2022.
The staff of the COGC is to be commended for their hard work to navigate the uncertain waters of the Covid-19 pandemic. But one wonders if some in the UM Church really want a General Conference to occur. A General Conference cannot occur without delegates, and everyone agrees that every effort must be made to have as many delegates present as possible.
Two impediments to the attendance of delegates have been known for months. We have known that delegates from outside the United States would not be able to attend if they had not received the required regimen of immunizations against Covid-19. This requirement is imposed by the U.S. government, not the UM Church. The second impediment – having delegates from outside the United States obtain visas – has also been known for months.
With respect to vaccinations, we now know that no UM Church agency, board, or commission has focused specifically on helping General Conference delegates gain access to them. And even after the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) and its partners announced they were making resources available to delegates, regardless of their perspective on pending legislation, no UM Church agency, board, or commission has joined their initiative. The UM Church has always assisted delegates with the costs of applying for visas, so it seems reasonable it would lead or at least join an initiative to help them receive vaccinations.
Still, the good news is that delegates outside the United States who want to be vaccinated so they can attend the General Conference can now receive the shots. We have confirmed that delegates in much of Africa, Europe and Eurasia, and the Philippines have been vaccinated. The primary areas where delegates are experiencing barriers to accessing vaccinations are in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, and Zambia. The WCA and its partners are pleased to report 50 percent of the delegates in those countries have now been vaccinated. We anticipate the remaining delegates who opt to be vaccinated will have completed their regimen of shots by the end of February. More than $119,000 has been generously given to the Vaccination Access Initiative. Where there’s a will there’s a way!
Access to visas is the next hurdle. A recent article by David Scott, Director of Mission Theology for the General Board of Global Missions, speculates that up to a third of General Conference delegates will not get visas in time to attend the conference. In order to apply for a visa, a delegate must receive an invitation letter from the COGC. To date, such letters have not been issued although most conference secretaries provided the COGC with lists of elected delegates back in 2019 and early 2020, well in advance of May 2020, the original date for General Conference. The COGC needs to issue invitation letters to delegates as soon as possible so they can begin the visa application process. And then the COGC needs to work with U.S. government officials to secure timely visa interviews for delegates. Where there’s a will there’s a way!
The WCA will hold its Global Legislative Assembly on May 6, 2022. Delegates will attend from Africa, Europe and Eurasia, and the Philippines. All of our delegates have received letters of invitation; some have already received their visas. Others have applied for visas and have had visa interviews scheduled within days of applying. For example, one delegate from the Democratic Republic of Congo applied for his visa on February 1 and will have his visa interview on February 17. We are assisting other delegates to obtain timely visa interviews through working relationships established with representatives of the U.S. government. We are willing to make these same relationships available to assist General Conference delegates in obtaining timely visa interviews. Where there’s a will there’s a way!
We note that other major international denominations have overcome barriers to hold meetings of their governing bodies. For example, both the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church-Zion recently held such meetings. Though smaller than the UM Church, they found ways to convene their conferences.
And even the United Methodist Women will hold its international gathering from May 20-22, 2022, in Orlando, Florida. Women from outside the United States have already been vaccinated, obtained visas, and are looking forward to arriving in Florida in just three months. Where there’s a will there’s a way!
Many United Methodists around the world are eager for General Conference to convene so delegates can attend to important business already postponed for two years, leaving the denomination in an unhealthy state of limbo. At this juncture, a further postponement is really in no one’s legitimate interest. The WCA and other advocacy groups stand ready to join with others to make sure General Conference convenes on August 29, 2022. We hope all UM Church leaders will work very hard to make sure that happens. Where there’s a will there’s a way!
The Rev. Keith Boyette is president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and chairman of the Transitional Leadership Council of the Global Methodist Church (in formation). He is an elder in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.
East Ohio WCA is not affiliated with the East Ohio UNITED METHODIST CHURCH.
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