The United Methodist Church General Conference, the global policy-making gathering for the denomination, has been postponed due to concerns about spreading the coronavirus.
Held every four years, the UMC General Conference was originally scheduled to take place May 5-15 at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
UMC spokeswoman Diane Degnan directed The Christian Post to a statement by the Executive Committee of the Commission on the General Conference released on Wednesday.
According to the executive committee, the General Conference will be postponed due to the Convention Center restricting events through May 10 to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
This followed recommendations by the Minnesota Department of Health, Gov. Tim Walz, and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey to postpone or cancel events involving more than 50 people.
Commission Chair Kim Simpson explained in the statement that the decision was expected and that they intend “to move forward with new plans as quickly as possible.”
“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,” stated Simpson.
“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.”
The commission’s decision to postpone the General Conference came days after the UMC Council of Bishops sent them a letter requesting postponement.
“Newly imposed international travel restrictions to the U.S. are making it more difficult for our Central Conference delegates,” explained the letter, sent out last Friday.
“Consideration must also be given to the grave risk resulting from international travel and meeting in a very large gathering with the potential spread of the virus when we are together.”
This year’s General Conference planned to address possible legislation aimed at splitting the denomination over its longstanding internal debate on homosexuality.
For several years, progressive United Methodists have tried to change the denomination's official stance that homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
While their efforts have always failed, they have taken to increasingly resisting UMC rules against same-sex marriage and the ordination of noncelibate homosexual clergy.
The most notable proposal advanced to General Conference was known as the “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation,” which would, among other things, allocate $25 million for Methodists who adhere to biblical sexual ethics to vote to leave the UMC and create their own denomination.
The Philippines Conference Cavite, the Sierra Leone Conference, and the Michigan Annual Conference each voted to send the Protocol to General Conference, with the Philippines and Sierra Leone also expressing their endorsement of the plan.
“Unlike the two international conferences that acted before the March 7 vote in Albion, The Michigan Conference did not endorse the Protocol,” explained the Michigan regional body.
“The single motion brought by the delegation for action by the Special Session was ‘to send the petition entitled 'Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation and Restructuring' (BOD New ¶2556)’ to the 2020 General Conference.’”