So here I am, sitting in the airport, waiting for time to board the plane to Portland. It’s been a hectic few weeks finding myself to this seat. From the announcement that the pastoral transition for New Church’s vital merger would happen this year (instead of next), processing all that–both personally and with parishioners, having the continue to lead a church in a transition, leading through some pretty significant property issues, my child finishing 1st grade, my wife’s 40th birthday, Mother’s Day, attending an on-boarding session for my new appointment, driving to Birmingham for my cousin’s Senior Voice Recital (a 3 year graduate of Birmingham-Southern College!), and having to be driver/ family rep when my uncle had a medical emergency, I’m not sure which event was the one that put me over. That said, for the frenzy of a modern-day airport to be a welcome respite, that’s saying something!
With all this activity, I haven’t really processed that it’s all about to begin–the early mornings, the long days, the passionate lobbying, the excellent worship, the politicking and posturing, nights of little sleep and looking out for the gracious movement of the Spirit. Oh, I’ve read up on all the reports our delegation wrote. I’m even rather well-versed in the petitions and reports for the committee I’m sitting in on (Financial Administration). I hope I can help out the two North Georgia members of that committee.
Although the well-known and time-tested caucuses are already present in Portland and waiting on us, I’m not really despondent that we’ll get “stuck”. I wrote on this blog 4 years ago and I’ll reiterate now, the frustration coming out of GC 2012 in Tampa of our own making. We have a process in place and the process generated the outcome congruent with its’ construct. The denomination couldn’t agree about much, so not much happened. The folks who were frustrated by the actions of our Judicial Council should remember our denominational constitution and how it functions.
I am hopeful as I ready to board the plane. No, there’s no grand Towers-Watson report and no Interim Operations Team pre-figuring how delegates will vote. I pray that the lesson learned from that failed yet well-crafted, well-messaged process is not to take everything underground and surprise the delegates. Yes, there’s Plan UMC-R. It might not be perfect–in fact it might have some significant flaws–but we as a denomination have to find ways to become more nimble. So we need to listen to that report. There’s many petitions around what it means to be a church with global scope and yet most of the denominational energy is focused on the United States–where the vast lion’s share of denominational funding originates.
There’s piles of petitions about human sexuality. And it seems that everyone’s minds made up. No one is listening. I find this very frustrating. I’m almost to the point of wanting to see what would happen if we suspended the rules, pulled the petitions on the main floor the first day, and voted on each with out debate. That would not honor the hard work people have put into this next fortnight. And, more than that, it would not give space for the Spirit to move.
There’s also this “Rule 44” thing. It’s an alternative discernment process that takes petitions out of our usual processing following our take on Robert’s Rules of Order, and asks the body to deliberate them in a very different fashion. I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, I’m a process guy. And if we have an agreed-to process we ought to follow it. That said, like many, I recognize we got stuck at our 2012 General Conference. We stopped listening. Imagination ceased. People scrambled for their win. Maybe Rule 44 isn’t the right step forward but we better heed well the advice to try something different so that we can move forward as Christ’s Church. I know I don’t walk away tired and frustrated on May 21. I don’t think anyone else wants that, either.
So pray, friends. I am. Pray that the 2016 General Conference might listen to the Spirit, might be faithful to the task of ministry that ultimately is before all United Methodists, and that we might walk away renewed, strengthened, and inspired.