Once the Judicial Council ruling about Plan UMC came down on the last day of General Conference, it began. People were saying that millions of apportionment dollars were spent and nothing got accomplished. And now that Judicial Council has overturned the General Conference’s action on doing away with Security of Appointment (Guaranteed Appointment is a misnomer), the accusation has only amplified.
But it’s simply not true.
While I understand frustration, General Conference ultimately did what it was supposed to. Folk came together to perfect our Book of Discipline. They passed a budget. They listened to our episcopal leaders as they guided and lead. They worshipped. Somewhere in the midst of committee meetings, plenaries, sidebars, caucusing, meals, and cups of coffee God was experienced. Sometimes it was powerful and sometimes the still, small voice.
Just because the ultimate result of all the intense holy conferencing was, ultimately “No”, it does not mean General Conference failed. It does not matter whether the issue at stake was issues of human sexuality, security of appointment, or the structure of our general church the people of the United Methodist Church gathered for Holy Conferencing and came to group of decisions that are now reflected in our polity. Am I happy with all those decisions? No. And I think that anyone who said they were perfectly happy with all that went on in Tampa would not be telling the whole truth, much like those who would claim nothing happened are not being entirely truthful.
The words enshrined in what will be the 2012 Book of Discipline do not represent the final word on who we are, just who we are right now. And it is an imperfect volume–it represents conciliar statements that seem to sometimes contradict each other. But that somewhat misses the point: in our ordination vows we are asked “will we uphold” our polity, not “do we agree with”. A small but important distinction that belies the call to respect collective wisdom over individual wisdom and group process over isolated decision-making.
In that collective wisdom the United Methodist Church did the following in Tampa:
- Affirmed our ecumenical ties
- Began the process of healing wounds caused by the United Methodist Church’s involvement in the removal of Native American People from their lands
- Approved a “leaner, meaner” budget
- Shrunk the size of many of our boards. Hopefully this move will mean greater oversight–which implies more meetings (not less, and thus not necessarily a money-saving measure).
- Developed a fund for training of young clergy
- Made the beginning steps for recognizing that we are a national church structure trying to live into the reality that we are a global church… without trying to duplicate the role of the World Methodist Council
- and much… much… more…
And that makes sense because the People called United Methodist are a People on a journey. We haven’t arrived at the perfect life of holiness but that doesn’t mean we stop trying, either in our spiritual lives, our communities of faith, or our denomination.
In 3 and 1/2 years, the People of the United Methodist Church will gather in Portland, Oregon for two weeks. There will be powerful worship, many committee meetings, plenaries, sidebars, meals, coffees and even caucuses. Maybe we’ll learn to behave better, listen more, trust more by then. Maybe we’ll even remember that the Book of Discipline allows for the Council of Bishops or the General Conference to ask Judicial Council to rule on the constitutionality of proposed legislation. This would save everyone time and anxiety.
I’d be willing to guess right now that we will not all agree with everything that comes out of GC2016. But we’ll uphold it, try our best to perfect it, and all the while loving God and each other in the journey.