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Lay theology institute to focus on Methodism, 2016 General Conference

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Delegates to the 2012 United Methodist General Conference engage in "holy conferencing," a series of structured conversations on controversial issues that the global legislative gathering is addressing. Participants include Rudolph Merab (center) from Liberia. A UMNS Photo by Paul Jeffrey

The Bill Mallard Lay Theology Institute (LTI) at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology returns in 2015-2016 with an eye to the history, theology and polity of The United Methodist Church. “Holy Conferencing: From Wesley to 2016” will focus on the origins of the early Methodist concept of conferencing and consider its role in weighing current issues facing the denomination’s upcoming General Conference, to be held in Portland, Oregon, in May 2016. LTI sessions will be held Oct. 17, 2015 and April 9, 2016 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Lunch is included in the registration cost of $50 ($25 for students). Register here.

Anne Burkholder, director of the Mallard LTI and dean of Methodist Studies at Candler, says the phrase “holy conferencing” is used in Methodist circles in ways that assume we know its meaning. The term received significant attention during the 2012 General Conference, as efforts were made to engage in “holy conferencing” with mixed results, especially as the denomination weighed proposed changes to its Book of Discipline regarding issues related to human sexuality.

“Given that background and with the approach of the 2016 General Conference next May, the time seemed right to focus on questions about holy conferencing—what are its origins, does it have significance for us today? We want to get at those questions,” says Burkholder.

“This upcoming General Conference has the potential to be a pivotal event in the life of the denomination, so the topic is worthy of in-depth attention.”

That in-depth attention will take the form of two separate sessions—one in the fall and one in the spring—featuring four of Candler’s Methodist Studies faculty and respondents who have had extensive experience with the General Conference over the past 40 years

Saturday, October 17, 2015 | 9 a.m.–3 p.m.

Holy Conferencing: Its Origins in Wesley and What It Became In the Earliest Days of the Methodist Episcopal Church

Assistant Professor of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies Kevin Watson will address John Wesley’s understanding of conferencing as a means of grace and its impact on the development of early Methodism. Candler alumnus Herchel Sheets, delegate to six General Conferences, will respond. After lunch, Rex D. Matthews, professor in the practice of historical theology and Wesleyan studies, will speak about the emergence of the “Conference” in 1744 and its evolution as a staple of the early Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States. This presentation will set the stage for the spring session.

Saturday, April 9, 2016 | 9 a.m.–3 p.m.

Holy Conferencing: The Re-shaping of the Denomination in Response to Issues of the Day

Thomas W. Elliott Jr., assistant professor in the practice of practical theology, will speak to the role of the General Conference in key issues of the last century. Charlene Kammerer, retired bishop of the Western North Carolina and Virginia conferences, will respond. In the afternoon session, Anne Burkholder will discuss issues facing the 2016 General Conference, and Jack Meadors, retired bishop of the Mississippi Conference, will respond.

This is the first time that the LTI has dealt with one issue in multiple sessions and with multiple speakers. “This year’s institute showcases Candler’s Wesley and Methodist scholars,” says Burkholder. “While our work overlaps at certain points, we each bring a unique perspective to the table, and we all believe that this issue merits the extra time and voices.”

The Bill Mallard Lay Theology Institute at Candler School of Theology offers theology seminars for laity of all denominations in partnership with a variety of congregations, and a curriculum that provides excellent theological education for a lay, ecumenical student body. Designed to bring the gifts of Candler’s faculty to laypersons, the institute was named in honor of the late Professor Emeritus of Church History William “Bill” Mallard, one of Candler’s longest-serving and best-loved professors.

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