A Word From Pastor Howard

First United Methodist Church - Elkin, NC


Planning a big family wedding with dozens of people coming in for a weekend is challenge enough. But imagine trying to bring more than a thousand people together from four continents for a gathering that lasts two weeks. Your guests speak 10 languages, have various dietary needs, require multiple hotel rooms and must be able to pray, worship and make important decisions together. It would be a challenge wouldn’t it?! This is the nature of the upcoming General Conference of the UMC to be held in Charlotte NC starting end of April. You can begin to understand why the theme for this gathering is focused on “…and know that I am God” from Psalm 46.

The coming GC will have 862 voting delegates, half clergy and half lay — 55.9% from the U.S., 32% from Africa, 6% from the Philippines, 4.6% from Europe and the remainder from churches that have formal ties to The UMC. Our Bishops will preside but have no vote at GC. Even under normal circumstances, General Conference can be a grueling experience where people spend weeks far from home, relying on interpreters for communication and debating issues of faith that they hold dear. But with denominational departures already happening —this General Conference will not be business as usual.

Here are the top four priorities which are expected to dominate the business of the 2024 GC:


The GC will consider a major restructuring of the UMC which will provide additional flexibility and autonomy for the diverse geographic regions of the UMC. This will allow defined regions (the US being one) to adapt aspects of their mission and ministry to reach their cultural location without approval from regions that have significantly different practices.


Our UM Social Principles are statements of the Church which represent our stance on a huge range of contemporary issues. These statements do not have the force of “church law” but they do express the “sense” of the church on issues that relate to living as Christ in our world. A multi-cultural team of United Methodists have completed a multi-year revision of the Social Principles and this revision will be presented for review, tweaking and approval at 2024 GC.


Currently, UM Church law restricts gay and lesbian persons from full participation in the life of the UMC. The language defining these restrictions has been a source of debate and division ever since it first appeared in our 1972 Book of Discipline. There are many petitions coming before the 2024 GC which call for the church to remove this restrictive language from the Book of Discipline and allow Conferences and local churches to establish policies that reflect their mission and ministry.


In response to new fiscal realities brought on by disaffiliation of approximately 25% of local churches within the US (the most significant source of UM funding), WESPATH, our retirement and health benefits agency will be proposing a comprehensive new benefits program called Compass. This new plan will affect all clergy and lay persons who have been covered by the previous WESPATH benefits plans. This replacement of plans is to assure that strong health and retirement benefits can be maintained into the future of the UMC.

Please join me in prayer for the wisdom, patience and energy that the GC delegates will need to do their important work well!