Oklahomans will gather Tuesday in Florida to begin a once-every-four-years meeting of the global United Methodist Church denomination.
Delegates to the United Methodists' General Conference in Tampa, Fla., serve as the legislative body for the denomination. The assembly last met in 2008.
The Rev. Linda Harker, pastor of McFarlin United Methodist Church in Norman, leads the Oklahoma United Methodist Conference's nine-member clergy delegation. Judy Benson, of Frederick, leads a delegation of nine lay members.
Holly McCray, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma United Methodist Conference, said the conference delegation of 18 people will be part of the 988 delegates meeting as part of the General Conference.
Bishops, including Oklahoma United Methodist Conference Bishop Robert Hayes Jr., attend the gathering but do not get to vote, McCray said.
She said members of the Oklahoma United Methodist Conference delegation were elected at the conference's annual meeting last year. McCray said Harker has the distinction of being the first female pastor to be elected to lead the group of clergy.
McCray said Harker and Benson, wife of Loyd Benson, former state Speaker of the House, have led meetings for the Oklahoma delegates together to prepare for the General Conference gathering.
Harker said more than 1,100 petitions about various issues have been submitted for consideration by General Conference delegates. She said the petitions will be reviewed by legislative committees meeting the first week of the conference, and not all of them will make it to the conference floor for a vote.
She said one internal issue delegates may decide on is a proposal to limit the tenure of United Methodist bishops, who now typically serve as bishops until they reach the denomination's retirement age for bishops.
Another issue sure to be discussed is a proposal to restructure the church, Harker said.
Harker said she expects delegates also will discuss and possibly vote on several hot-button issues affecting the global church, such as marriage equality.
A spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said a growing number of United Methodists plan to ask that the delegates remove language from church law that bars gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people from full participation in the life of the church.
“Our job is to be aware of those issues,” Harker said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
The United Methodist Church is one of the larg
Meanwhile, McCray said Hayes will lead an Act of Repentance worship service set for Friday. She said the service is to focus on past treatment of American Indians and other indigenous people.
The conference will continue through May 4.