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Iowa United Methodist Church Amid Chaos Part II

Aunt Harriet, you once told me how the choir at church got different sheet music than the organist. I laughed when you said it was “mass chaos.” That reminded me of what is happening within the United Methodist Church in Iowa. Mass chaos often happens when people get together to discuss serious issues while talking in different languages. I thought it would help to list some terms we use in the UMC, and what they mean. I realize you probably know most of these, but I want to make sure we are singing the same hymn from the same hymnal…

United Methodist Church Structure:

Church/Charge: One or more churches led by a single pastor. There are 754 churches in Iowa.

District: A group of several churches, within the same locality. In Iowa, there are 5 districts, which average 150 churches per district. Each district is led by a District Superintendent, who supervises the local pastors. The District Superintendents are chosen and assigned by the Bishop of the Iowa Annual Conference.

Annual Conference: A group of districts (not necessarily within the state geographic borders) led by a Bishop who, along with the District Superintendents, decide which pastor is matched with a church. In the Iowa Annual Conference, our bishop is Laurie Haller. There are other employees overseeing various ministries and administration, such as camps and new church starts, within the annual conference. The ultimate authority over an Annual Conference is a group of people (laity and clergy) who are elected from each church and meet annually. This group has no authority over who their Bishop or District Superintendents are.

Jurisdiction: A group of annual conferences led by the Bishops of those Conferences. In the UMC in the United States, there are 5 Jurisdictions. Iowa is in the North Central Jurisdiction. Bishops are elected by a group of laity and clergy. These elected people represent each Annual Conference. The rest of the world has what are called Central Conferences.

General Church: The entire worldwide United Methodist Church. Unlike the Catholic Church, we have no pope. Instead, there is a governing body which is made up of laity and clergy elected by Annual Conferences. That governing body usually meets every 4 years at what is called a General Conference. The General Conference is the only body which can change the rules and doctrines of the worldwide church. These are found in a book called The Discipline.

A more detailed look of The United Methodist Church Structure can be found here.

Apportionments: The money provided by the local church to the annual conference (in our case, the Iowa Annual Conference) for ministry and administration. A portion of these funds also goes towards ministries and administration at the worldwide (a.k.a. General Conference) level.

Trust Clause: The rule set forth since the organization of The United Methodist Church, which stipulates all property and assets (including bank accounts) do not belong to the local church or it’s parishioners. Instead, all the properties and assets of each church are held in “trust” for the Annual Conferences.

Well, with all of that, I think I better close for today. I do want to commend your choir’s rendition of “He Arose” for Easter Sunday. It is one of my favorite hymns and reminds me of the Lord’s great resurrection and the promise of eternal life. I continue to pray for you and your congregation.


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