(RNS) — Perhaps the third time will be the charm for United Methodists awaiting a vote to officially split the denomination.
The United Methodist Church has announced the dates for the next meeting of its global decision-making body after postponing its 2020 General Conference meeting three times for pandemic-related reasons.
The next General Conference will be held April 23 to May 3, 2024, at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, the denomination’s Commission on General Conference announced Friday (Nov. 4).
“We are honored to host the 2024 General Conference of The United Methodist Church,” Bishop Ken Carter of the Western North Carolina Conference said in a written statement.
“Our people are hospitable and welcoming, and we trust that the delegates who gather for what promises to be an historic gathering will be blessed by the city of Charlotte and the state of North Carolina and its warmth and beauty.
The United Methodist Church’s General Conference generally gathers delegates from across the globe every four years.
Delegates were expected to take up a proposal to split the denomination — ostensibly, over disagreements on the ordination and marriage of its LGBTQ members — at the 2020 General Conference meeting, originally scheduled for May 5 to 15, 2020, in Minneapolis.
But the Commission on General Conference postponed the denominational meeting twice because of the COVID-19 pandemic — first to August 2021, then to roughly the same time in 2022, still in Minneapolis.
In March 2022, the commission announced a third delay, in part because of challenges obtaining vaccines and travel visas for delegates traveling outside the United States. The meeting would be in 2024, it said, though it did not give new dates or a location.
This prompted some United Methodists to launch the Global Methodist Church, a new theologically conservative denomination, rather than wait two more years for the outcome of a vote on a possible split.
In the meantime, the denomination — one of the largest in the United States — has begun to splinter, with some churches choosing to leave the United Methodist Church for the Global Methodist Church or to become independent.
Friday’s announcement put a date and location on the next General Conference.
The Commission on General Conference determined Charlotte was “the site that best met our varied needs,” after weighing proposals from three unnamed cities for the suitability and capacity of their meeting facilities, the availability of adequate space, the proximity of hotel rooms, their accessibility and the convenience of travel and costs, according to Kim Simpson, chair of the commission.
The Western North Carolina and North Carolina annual conferences will co-host the meeting because of the abbreviated timeline for planning, Simpson added.
The commission previously had scrapped plans to hold the 2024 General Conference in Manila, saying organizers could not find convention space available for two full weeks to host the gathering of United Methodists from around the world. It would have been the first General Conference meeting held outside the U.S.
The announcement still leaves a number of questions unanswered, including whether clergy and lay delegates elected to the 2020 General Conference will serve in 2024, or if the denomination’s regional annual conferences will elect new delegates to serve, as they would have for the regularly scheduled 2024 General Conference.
The Judicial Council has not yet ruled on related questions, which are listed on the fall docket for the denomination’s top court.