By Lindsey Graham and Craig This
Six of 10 people who were delegates or reserve
delegates to the 2008 General Conference were
also named to the governing boards of United
Methodist churchwide agencies—including
the Connectional Table, which is not an agency
per se, but which has oversight functions
related to all other agencies (see Chart 1).
The percentage of General Conference delegates/
reserves who are also now agency governors
ranges from 30 percent of members of the General
Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) to
66 percent of members on the General Board of
Global Ministries (see Chart 2).
Do these numbers indicate that decision-making
power in the denomination is in the hands of a toosmall
and too-restrictive group?
On three of the four general boards—the
General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM),
General Board of Higher Education and Ministry
(GBHEM) and General Board of Discipleship
(GBOD)—more than half of their governing board
members were also 2008 General Conference delegates or reserves. Historically, lay and clergy
seeking agency membership have requested
places on these three boards because they address
missions, discipleship and leadership.
These focuses were of particular emphasis for
delegates of the 2008 General Conference, which
affirmed four areas of focus for the church’s work
in the coming years: leadership development,
ministry with the poor, global health and “creating
new places for new people.”
Because of the Connectional Table’s oversight
function, over half of its members has served at
General Conference. It may be argued that having
delegates/reserves on the Connectional Table is
beneficial because these members know the spirit of
the actions taken by General Conference and bring
that understanding to their role.)
The lowest percentage of delegates are board
members of commissions. The General Commission
on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns
(GCCUIC), half of whose members has served
at General Conference compared to the two other mission-specific commissions, the General
Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) at 30
percent, and the General Commission on the Status
and Role of Women (GCSRW), at 41 percent.
Given the emphasis on the global nature of the
church, the growing membership and our work
with Methodist-related entities beyond the United
States, a greater emphasis can be found on
ecumenical and interreligious concerns.
Also, the mission-specific nature of GCORR
and GCSRW tends to attract a more focused,
specialized group of individuals to do its work.
However, there may also be a tendency to
stereotype when it comes to assigning governing
members to these two commissions. Specifically,
women and people of color may be encouraged to
choose membership on these two agencies, even
though the voices and perspectives of men and
white people are also needed to help the church
successfully address and counter institutional
sexism and racism.
GCSRW especially attracts voting members who
have never served on another churchwide agency,
while the larger boards tend to have veteran
members from other agency governing boards.
In many ways, GCSRW helps train new persons
on how to serve as effective voting members.
General Conference delegates serving on general
boards and agencies can play an important role
in the continuity of the work of the general
boards and agencies in receiving mandates from
General Conference and from quadrennium to
quadrennium. Delegates and reserve delegates
participate in and listen to the debate and the
conversations around the issues being voted on at
General Conference. When these persons are then
assigned to churchwide agencies, they may bring
that collective history and knowledge.
Additionally, the greater the percentage of General
Conference delegates serving on an agency, the less
drastic the learning curve for continuing the work of these boards and commissions. Commissions
such as GCORR and GCSRW tend to spend more
time on educating and training their members
because they have a greater percentage of newto-general-church
leaders. To ensure that these
commissions are able to implement their missions
to the fullest extent, perhaps the denomination
should focus on bringing a balance of new and
experienced voting members to each board and
agency, including the commissions.
Lindsey Graham is website coordinator for GCSRW.
Craig This is data analyst in the Department of
Institutional Research at Wright State University in Ohio.