A Statement on 2022 General Conference Dates from Young People’s Ministries
Yes, we have heard that the new dates for General Conference 2020 are now August 29 to September 6, 2022. Yes, that means that at least one more calendar year will roll over, further confusing the quadrennial (four-year) schedule for The United Methodist Church’s only body that can set official policy and speak for the denomination. General Conference is the highest legislative body in The United Methodist Church, and it has the power to revise the Book of Discipline and the Book of Resolutions. It can also initiate amendments to the denomination’s constitution. General Conference also approves the budget allocating apportioned funds (part of the operating budgets for general agencies of The United Methodist Church). All that work in a normal year requires amazingly heavy lifting by the planners of General Conference to create a space conducive to holy conferencing as well as to secure and fair legislative procedures. We all know 2020 was not a normal year, and 2021 is shaping up to continue presenting challenges to the “way things have always been done.”
If you have ever used a Doodle poll to try and schedule a movie time with friends, meetings for work, or a Zoom meeting for a youth group, you know that there is almost never a perfect time that works equally well for everyone invited. Given the limitations faced by those responsible for planning General Conference, they have done an outstanding job of listening to constituents and experts in other fields in making the decision to postpone. And yes, the planning commission did have young adults in their midst and engaged in long conversations with young adults and advocates for young people in determining the dates for 2022. The feedback that planners received from young delegates factored heavily into the decision-making process, and I am grateful that they provided both a platform to hear positive feedback and critiques from young people, as well as the chance to come together with young people to lift up “equitable access to all delegates” as a primary value in the decision-making process. I have also been in conversation with young delegates as the delay of the 2020 General Conference became 2021, and now 2022. We shared some frustrations, some laughter, some worry, and some new understanding of how we all must recognize the challenges posed by COVID-19 will require us to adapt and to seek the best possible outcomes in new ways.
Young delegates to General Conference find themselves in interesting and often difficult positions because of the delays. Some were elected as laypeople, and they will have moved further into their ordination process by 2022. Some were elected when they fit the age-limit definitions of being a youth or young adult, but like all of us, they will be two years older in 2022 than they would have been in 2020. Some have experienced economic changes and joblessness because of the pandemic. Some would have brought their young children in 2020, arranging childcare on their own. Now they may have another child or older children whose school and activity schedules may cause conflicts where none existed before. Some would have been elected as students, planning to serve during a summer break from an academic calendar, but now find themselves serving as young professionals with limited ability to take time off. Others remain students, but may have difficult decisions to make to join General Conference during their academic year. Also remember that academic schedules differ by region of the world, so when one set of universities may be passing out syllabi and just getting started, others are wrapping up and administering final exams.
The continued unfolding of responses to COVID-19 has helped me remember and be more attentive to several things:
- The United Methodist Church is filled with passionate young people who really do care about how our denomination behaves.
- Young leaders crave chances to sit together at the table and be both heard and understood.
- Young people remain resilient, and that should inspire all of us to be a part of the movement of God.
- A natural by-product of meaningful, Christ-centered relationships is the desire to recognize the challenges that we each face when determining how to make ourselves available for causes and gatherings that we care about. Therefore, we should honor various contexts, age groups, economic situations, life stages, locations (and on and on) in the planning of those causes and gatherings.
- Young People’s Ministries and the Division on Ministries with Young People will continue to serve as an advocate for young people in the church and as the dates for General Conference get closer in 2022. We offer the opportunity to partner and brainstorm potential accommodations to aid young people’s full participation in meetings that are vital to the health and growth of our church.
In closing, I would offer the reminder and the encouragement for all church leaders to deeply consider the particular needs of younger people when their presence and input is truly desired. The limitations of finances, jobs, ability to take time off, raise children, and engage in schooling all compete for the time and energy of young people. It is therefore incumbent upon those in positions of planning to listen to the needs of young people in their context and make accommodations in meeting schedule and event costs to make it as easy as possible for young people to participate fully. This applies to all levels of the church, including local congregations in addition to other connectional entities. After all, the Methodist movement has often been at its best when it has flowed upon the energy and engagement of young people.
Director of Young People’s Ministries