The Ins and Outs of the 2016 (Bicentennial) Discipline
Published every four years since 1817, the Doctrine and Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (commonly known as the “Discipline”) contains the fundamental laws, procedures, and beliefs that undergird and guide the Connectional AME Church at all levels. The year after the General Conference is always a time of anticipation as members of the Church wait to see the new book so they can begin to digest and implement the new legislation adopted the preceding year. The Discipline occupies a unique place in the publishing world—it is the oldest book continuously printed by African-Americans. The 2016 Discipline is a tangible witness to the faith of the founders of the AME Church and its global legacy.
Who creates the Discipline?
At the close of the General Conference, the Compilation Committee meets at the AME Church Publishing House in Nashville to review and categorize the legislation approved by the General Conference. This Committee is composed of four bishops, the chair and secretaries of the Revisions Committee, the General Secretary/CIO, Treasurer/CFO, elected representatives from every episcopal district (for the 2016-2020 period, odd districts sent clergy and even district sent laity) as well as no more than 10 at-large members from the Revisions Committee of the General Conference. Additionally, the Chair of the Committee also appoints a Correcting and Editing Committee that examines the content of the proposed Discipline, looking for grammatical issues and archaic language. The Rt. Rev. Gregory G. M. Ingram is the Chair of the Compilations Committee for the 2016 Discipline. (Note: At the time of writing, the Compilations Committee is still completing its work).
How is the Discipline published?
Once the Discipline is drafted by the Compilations Committee, it is reviewed by the General Secretary of the Church to ensure that the legislation has been properly placed. Upon the General Secretary’s approval, the final document is presented by the Compilations Committee to the President/Publisher of the AME Church Publishing House (Sunday School Union), who has one year or 365 days to publish the Discipline from receipt of the final copy. Some 40,000 copies of the Discipline will be made available for purchase through the episcopal district offices along with personal orders that can be made through the Sunday School Union. An online version will also be available for purchase.
What makes the 2016 edition different?
As 2016 marks the bicentennial of the AME Church as a denomination, several steps were taken to commemorate this occasion. According to Bishop Ingram, “We have a comprehensive treatment of the expansion and growth and mission of the AME Church. The Episcopal Letter has also been revised to reflect the Bicentennial.” The Rev. Belin states, “We wanted to ensure that we had a quality product that reflected the dignity and significance of the occasion. We selected different printing stock and a different typeface. It will be an elegant book, one which will make African Methodists proud.”
What other changes have been made?
In addition to the cosmetic changes, the Compilations Committee is conducting a substantial reorganization and indexing of the Discipline with hopes of making a more user-friendly document. “The Discipline will have a new look,” remarks Bishop Ingram. “Every aspect of the Discipline will be able to be cross-referenced and be viewed parallel with a new comprehensive index.” Also included is a newly revised glossary with over 130 new terms including AME personalities and certain terms (e.g., vice-chair) that have been widely used but never defined. Bishop Ingram asserts that the enhanced glossary “will normalize and give a better perspective on terms used in the church.”
After review, some sections of the Discipline have been adjusted or removed within the parameters set by the General Conference. For example, the section governing the now defunct “Church Extension Department” has been excised. Most notably, the 2016-2020 budget will not be included. Bishop Ingram explains, “When you start dealing with legal issues, you don’t need the financials in the book. The Discipline has nothing to do with financials. In terms of transparency, the issue is not that we’re trying to hide it, but it should not be a part of your Discipline.” Instead, the budget will be available in a separate document produced by the AME Church Finance Department. Bishop Ingram believes that “prayerfully and hopefully people will appreciate what we’ve done to make a new Discipline.”
What can we expect in future versions of the Discipline?
The Sunday School Union is looking at various ways to make the Discipline more accessible to AMEs located outside of the United States. The Rev. Belin noted that “After visiting the Global Development Council in February 2017, we became even more aware of the need for the Discipline and the liturgy of the church to be available in the languages of the people that we serve.” There are negotiations currently underway to provide translations in various languages as well as dealing with the shipping cost of the materials. “The Discipline is the single volume that teaches AMEs who we are and how we bring glory to God in the world,” further states the Rev. Belin. He continues, “Kept alongside the Bible, it shows us a map of how we are to participate with Christ in the ongoing renewal of creation.”