An annual conference in the United Methodist Church is a regional body that governs much of the life of the “connectional church”. Annual conferences are composed primarily of the clergy members and a lay member or members from each charge (a charge is one or more churches served by a minister under appointment by the bishop). Each conference is a geographical division. In general, the smaller states in the United States hold one conference each, while larger states often include two or more conferences. Several annual conferences are held in other nations as well.
Role and composition
The annual conference is the primary unit of denominational government. Regional groups of conferences within the United States make up the Jurisdictional Conferences, and outside the United States they make up the Central Conferences. The entire group of all annual conferences makes up the General Conference which meets every four years. Only the General Conference can speak officially for the church.
The annual conference is composed of an equal number of clergy and laity. Each charge conference elects as many lay members to the annual conference as they have ministers appointed to that charge. In most cases that is one. The Lay Member must, at the time of election, be a professing member of the United Methodist Church for at least two years and four years an active participant in the church. This requirement may be waived for those under 30 years old in the Central Conferences, and is waived for newly organized churches. The annual conference also consists of a number of “at-large” members, also known as “additional lay members,” the number of at-large members being the number necessary (after the members elected by charge conferences are seated) so that the laity and the clergy are equal in number. First seated among at-large members are lay persons holding certain lay positions or offices designated by the Book of Discipline or by the annual conference itself. Among those officers are the lay leaders of the conference and each of the districts within the conference, as well as the Conference presidents of the United Methodist Men, United Methodist Women, the young adult organization, the college student organization and the youth fellowship. Also all the diaconal ministers, home missioners and the deaconesses under Episcopal appointment are lay members. When there are multiple congregations in a charge conference, members from each congregation in that charge are encouraged to become at-large members. After all lay members who hold their seat by virtue of office or position are seated and if additional lay members are needed the annual conference will elect any active United Methodist lay person who is interested in holding that position.
Among their other duties the annual conference elects delegates to the general, jurisdictional and central conferences, and votes on amendments to the church constitution. Its executive committee, composed of its ordained clergy members, authorizes the ordination of clergy, also disciplines and hold accountable its members.