The United Methodist Church, anticipating action on a proposal that could split the denomination, has postponed its quadrennial General Conference, which was scheduled for May 5-15 in Minneapolis.
The Minneapolis Convention Center notified the Executive Committee of UMC’s Commission on the General Conference that the venue was not holding large events through May 10, a news release from the church’s press center said.
The convention center’s restrictions, the release said, are based on Minnesota Department of Health recommendations to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, which has caused a global pandemic of respiratory illness and death. The virus is also known as COVID-19.
The release quoted Kim Simpson, chair of the General Conference Commission, who said the convention center’s restrictions are “not unexpected based on the current guidance from health officials, and we expect to move forward with new plans as quickly as possible.”
The release said the commission “has been monitoring the situation for some time” and had scheduled a teleconference of the full commission for March 21 to discuss plans for the event. Only the full commission has the authority to change the date of the General Conference, the release said.
As of Wednesday, that teleconference was still scheduled, the release said, but added that it’s uncertain when the commission would be able to announce new dates. The release also said the commission had already been approached with many requests to postpone the General Conference over the spreading pandemic.
United Methodist News reported that one request for postponement expressed concern about the complex issues regarding travel for the many delegates from nations across the globe. The report said that “About 43 percent of General Conference delegates come from Africa, Europe or the Philippines.”
In the release, Simpson said, “Our focus in this moment is not solely on the gathering of the General Conference for the work we have been called to do, but is on the individuals, families, churches and communities around the world whose lives are being impacted by this pandemic.
“We recognize the struggle to deal with the physical, emotional and spiritual needs which come with the unknown. We are confident that local United Methodist churches will be finding new ways to be in community with their neighbors and meet their evolving needs.”
Simpson said in a phone interview that the chief concern for her and the commission is the health and welfare of the delegates who attend the event. She added that “It’s our responsibility to provide the vehicle that allows all delegates to participate fully in the General Conference.”
Simpson is the treasurer for the Metropolitan Board of Missions of The United Methodist Church.
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Tim Tune is a freelance journalist based in Fort Worth, Texas. His work has been published by Baptist Press, as well as the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Business Press, Arlington Today magazine and other North Texas publications.