2016 General Conference- Day 3

An interesting day as we began our process in earnest:

Preach, Bishop

One of the hallmark moments of a General Conference is the Episcopal Address. One bishop is selected by the Council of Bishops to address the General Conference and world in a pastoral tone. Bishop Gregory Palmer preached a word that was hopeful, inspiring, truth-telling, and convicting. He reminded us of our prior sins, including our complicity a “Mutually Assured Destruction” model of decision making–something I have thought of as “fighting over the ash heap”. He reminded us that the world needs hope, that the church deserves better & God deserves better. You can watch the full address here: https://www.facebook.com/umcgeneralconference/videos/1274865645874998/

It was one of those sermons you didn’t want to end–partially because you wanted him to keep on talking and partially because soon would come the call to change. I pray we change.

Rules

The first act of the body was to debate Rule 44 (the alternative discernment process). See infograph below (thanks Jeremy)


The interesting part was not whether Rule 44 would be sent to the Rules Committee. The interesting part was the procedural parliamentary tricks that went on. The motion was tabled (a way to put away a motion because no one wants to talk about it). There’s one problem: in Europe and parts of Africa, tabling means to begin conversation not ending conversation. So the tabling motion was reversed. There were more parliamentary maneuvers, more points of order, and the hearing of amendments. The Rules Committee will report back Thursday morning.

Christian Conferencing

The first thing committees did today was not elect officers. They spent a little over an hour talking about their context, impediments to fulfilling the Great Commission, and what is it that excites and frets about a globally-structured church. What a great idea! I’m sure some were bored and wanted to get to business. To pray together, listen together, and discuss a matter than will require no vote was a wonderful way to begin. Folks got to hear where people were coming from. They might have even been brave enough to be vulnerable with one another.

Financial Administration

I’m sitting in on the Financial Administration Committee. This is what I will be staring at for most of the next week.

Here’s my view:


This committee will work on our budget, on matters related to our Pensions Program (including divestment petitions from companies profiting from the occupation in the West Bank as well as companies profiting from fossil fuels). Activities today were to only elect each committee’s officers–a chair, a vice-chair, a secretary, and any subcommittee chairs if they are needed. A couple of interesting things happened in Financial Administration. First, the committee inadvertently elected someone who was not actually on the committee. There had been a discrepancy between the preliminary and final committee rosters. So they had to elect a vice-chair twice. Also, there was a request early on that paper ballots be counted open and in a public fashion so that members could see how votes were tallied as each ballot was read and counted. There was an assumption that this was a global norm (something I’ve never seen in any voting I’ve been a part of). They got done early, elected 6 people who were all qualified folk with prior experience in this committee.

Trust

I have been spending much time and thought processing what I’m seeing and hearing. I’m not at a place of final, definite answer but I keep coming back to a place where it seems as if folks do not trust each other. On the one hand, how can we. There’s so many new faces and new stories. That said, we share a common faith tradition and we can trust that which has been passed onto us. Even still, we’ve spent more time than necessary arguing points of order and points of information. The moments of celebration are few and far between. Maybe we ought to watch Bishop Palmer’s address each morning before arriving at the Convention Center. 

Here’s my question: do we trust God to work through this General Conference and the individuals constituting each delegation? If not, then we’ll continue status quo and not much will change. Caucus groups will cheer small victories that seem like big wins for their donor base while the rest are left feeling something less than satisfied. Folks will have to settle for a United Methodist Church that is something less than what God would imagine for it. I do believe most here want to work towards this and are doing so within their current constructs. Still, it’s going to take some God-inspired imagination to change.

I implore my colleagues to continue to assume everyone operates with sincere intentions, that we maintain high standards for respectful dialogue & activity, including that  we continue to listen fully before we speak, and that we see our work in the midst of the grand sweep that is God’s activity in the world. We’re never left to our own devices. The Spirit still abides. The Spirit still moves. Thanks be to God.

Vital Signs Important Numbers:

  • Steps Walked: 7,800
  • Meals at Food Trucks: 1
  • Refills of my water bottle (Thanks Candler): countless.