There are a lot of words and phrases associated with The United Methodist Church and its organizational structure. To help members of our Mountain Sky Conference navigate the language of the church, below is a glossary of terms commonly used and their definitions. 

Local Churches: Most individuals have their initial contact with the denomination in the local church. Some local church members don't realize that they are part of a bigger whole or connection: an annual conference, a jurisdiction, the General Church, and churches and annual conferences around the world.


General Conference: The General Conference is an international body of nearly 1,000 delegates that generally meets every four years. The delegates are elected by annual conferences (at annual conference sessions) to attend General Conference. They represent all annual conferences around the world. Half of the delegates are laity (non-clergy members), half are clergy.

Watch this video explaining the General Conference


Jurisdiction: The five geographic areas in the United States, each composed of several annual conferences as determined by the General Conference: North Central, Northeastern, South Central, Southeastern and Western.


Annual Conference: A regional, organizational unit of The United Methodist Church and the yearly business meeting of that unit, both presided over by a bishop. The business session is composed of equal numbers of clergy and laity. At least one layperson from each pastoral charge is a member. There are 56 annual conferences in the United States and 76 outside the U.S. in Africa, Europe and the Philippines. The conference is a time to review ministry, adopt policy and resolutions, and strengthen spiritual life.


Episcopal Area: The annual conference or conferences to which a bishop is assigned by the Jurisdictional or Central conference. The bishop lives within the bounds of the episcopal area and presides over the work of one or more annual conferences.


Council of Bishops: Bishops of The United Methodist Church provide spiritual leadership to almost 12 million persons in a broad range of settings on four continents, including North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. All bishops are members of the Council of Bishops, which collectively is charged with the general oversight and promotion of the temporal and spiritual interests of the entire Church. Bishops are specifically assigned to preside over the work of a regional area.


Judicial Council: The Judicial Council is the highest judicial body or "court" of The United Methodist Church. Its nine members are elected by the General Conference. The Judicial Council determines the constitutionality of acts or proposed acts of the General, Jurisdictional, Central, and Annual Conferences. It acts on these either on appeal of lower rulings or through requests for declaratory decisions. It also rules on whether acts of other official bodies of the denomination conform to The Book of Discipline. This is done in accordance with procedures established in The Book of Discipline.


The Book of Discipline: A fundamental book outlining the law, doctrine, administration, organizational work and procedures of The United Methodist Church. Each General Conference amends The Book of Discipline, and the actions of the General Conference are reflected in the quadrennial revision. Often referred to as The Discipline.

Related: When was the first Book of Discipline created?


Apportionment: The share each annual conference or local church pays to support international, national and regional (annual conference) mission.


Delegate: A pastor or layperson elected by an annual conference as its representative to General Conference, Jurisdictional Conference or Central Conference.


Church Conference: The convening of the Charge Conference as a meeting in which all members of a local United Methodist church are invited to attend and are extended the privilege of vote. A Church Conference is called to have broad participation of the members of the congregation. The Church Conference may be authorized by the district superintendent.


Quadrennium: The official four-year period beginning January 1 following each General Conference, during which The United Methodist Church implements General Conference legislation.


Consecration: The act of conferring a ministerial office or function through prayer and the laying on of hands, as for a bishop at a session of the Jurisdictional Conference.


Inclusiveness: The term in United Methodism that means that every level of the denomination is to be open to all people in all settings on a fully equal basis. There is to be no distinction made because of racial or ethnic background, national origin, gender, age, handicapping condition, or any other criteria. It is the policy of The United Methodist Church to be fully inclusive of all persons in their participation in the life and work of the church.


Sacraments: The United Methodist Church recognizes two sacraments, baptism and communion. These two acts have a special place in the church because Jesus commanded them and participated in them. Baptism marks the beginning of our lifelong journey as disciples of Jesus Christ. Communion nourishes and sustains us on the journey.


Membership Vows: Taken when a person joins a United Methodist church as a baptized or professing member. By taking the baptismal and local church membership vows, the individual agrees to covenant with God and the members of the local church to keep the vows that are part of living the baptismal covenant and reception into membership in the local church.