St Louis Day 4

I keep saying this… it was another long day.

In what seems like Groundhog Day, everything that was approved and voted upon on Monday also had to be voted upon on Tuesday. The same people voting on the same things… twice.

By now, you probably have read what happened:

  • The petitions related to the pension plans passed.
  • The traditional plan passed (405-395). There were a few amendments made but It still seems problematic.
  • The “Taylor” Disaffiliation Plan passed.

The question for us all, now, is “what does it all mean?

Before we adjourned, the Traditional Plan was referred to Judicial Council. That referral for declaratory decision (is it Constitutional) will happen April 23-25, 2019. The Committee, Chair, and Parliamentarian refused to let the Traditional Plan be divided for approval (divide the question). When it comes time to be reviewed by Judicial Council that becomes a pretty good argument for making the entire Traditional Plan inseverable. If any of it is unconstitutional, all of it is.

I cannot help but imagine that the disaffiliation plan that passed will be brought before Judicial Council, too.

All that means that we’ve probably just spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million to learn a few things:

  • It is becoming increasingly difficult to operate in a global context without every part of our church having the freedom to adapt for context.
  • Our polity was written to keep us together, not break us apart. It was also written in a time that assumed a US-majority church with minor global representation.
  • It also assumes that people would come to the table with good intentions and a desire to move forward, together.
  • The people who have been bringing the major petitions for the past quadrennia–traditional plan, Plan UMC, etc keep having their plans ruled unconstitutional. Maybe it’s time to read our polity, especially our constitution, before submitting major changes to our polity. Also maybe it’s time to pay attention to the names that keep appearing on petitions that wind up unconstitutional.
  • Finally, for the record, we need to own that a flawed, incomplete plan for unity that could not make it through the Commission nor the Council of Bishops on its own merits is what became the petition that passed (and presumably will be declared unconstitutional a 4th time). It’s well-documented elsewhere how this sketch was included as a third proposal from the COWF.

So, what’s next? I think we wait and see, from a denominational perspective. There’s a conservative group that is meeting in a week. They said prior to St. Louis they are exiting unless the traditional passed unamended. It passed but amended and with questionable constitutionality. We’ll see. The Western Jurisdiction read a statement that says a lot without saying anything definitive other than they will continue doing ministry as they have been. Adam Hamilton has also said via Twitter that he is speaking with Bishops and other church leaders about what happens next. He suggested a meeting would happen after Easter.

I also think it is worth watching what the church does with the referral motion regarding alleged unethical activity–vote buying and bribery. I’ve heard rumors of this off and on since I was in seminary. Is there evidence? Can any connections be made? Who knows.

From a local church ministry perspective, all I can say is continue to serve God, see the world as your parish, and care for each other. Love and worship God. Tend to those who are hurting, especially those who sting a little more sharply today. Also, pay attention to help any who feel vindicated by the decision of this week–that we help remind folk of our essential unity in Christ. There were no winners this week.

Our bishop said it better than I: https://vimeo.com/320071023

Also, I witnessed and was moved by this singing last night. Check it out.

Singing post- GC

Finally, watch how you are investing your time. A dear clergy colleague had a birthday yesterday. While I missed that we were having a delegation meal, I went with others and celebrate her life and ministry after we concluded. It was life-giving.

St. Louis Day 3

After a long, painful day, let me begin this update by sharing how I ended it—praying, singing, and worshipping with young adult seminarians. I was invited to listen, console, and maybe inspire but they were the ones who inspired me. These young adults, sensing a call to Christ’s Church but unsure if that church will even be around for them, continue to push on. Yes, there’s sadness, frustration, anger, and even fear. But there was also faith, boldness, and courage.

Amazing. Thank you, folks. Y’all rock.

Now to the day. Today was a long slog-through-the mud kind of day. There are other reports that go into detail but we know the highlights:

  • The Traditionalist Plan passed out of committee.
  • 2 of the disestablishment (gracious exit) plans passed out of committee, as well.
  • The One Church Plan and Simple Plan did not pass.
  • Everything else was bundled in a rejection proposal and the committee’s work was done.

A few highlights. Please find a way to check out Byron Thomas’ speech on the floor. In a session that began with an invocation from a CME Bishop (a reminder of another time when we failed to hit the mark and the church suffered schism) Byron invoked Bishop Leontine Kelley, reminding us of the sin of creating a Central Jurisdiction that segregated black and white churches.

At the same time, please look up J.J. Warren’s speech on the floor. Simply amazing. https://youtu.be/CmleAvUz3sM.

So, what’s left?

  • The Judicial Council is to rule on the Constitutionality of everything the Committee voted to the plenary. Remember, the Traditionalist Plan did not get perfected and still have many, many Constitutional issues. Who knows if they can be fixed in one day.
  • The One Church Plan will be submitted to the plenary as part of a minority report. It will be there as actionable in case it is needed. Interestingly enough, the One Church Plan did get perfected in committee. There was a will among the body to work with it. There was simply a resistance to move it forward. The fact that the body worked with it showed there was enough votes in the body to pass.
  • The Stand Committee on Central Conference Matters will report on their work.

Will the plenary have the will and time to perfect any unconstitutionality still in the Traditionalist Plan? If not, will the body switch to the One Church Plan as a minority report? How does the Standing Committee’s work impact the plenary? Do the disestablishment plans live up to constitutional muster? If so, will the churches pressing for a way out leave regardless of what else passes tomorrow?

Pray, my friends, for our Church, for those making decisions. Pray especially for those who ended this day feeling wounded, ignored, unloved. Please know that you are seen, you are heard, you are loved.

St. Louis General Conference Day 1

Coming into this General Conference all the preliminary conversations around today’s Day of Prayer was something of a head-scratcher. There were not a whole lot of details about what would go on… other than that prayer would happen. And I’ve got to say, I was really impressed with how boldly our leaders embraced investing a whole day to pray for guidance, wisdom, healing, and vision.

It was truly an inspired act to divide the day’s time into representative prayer times reflecting the diversity of our church—a denomination whose roots are in the United States but now has a footprint across the globe. Bravo.

I was in awe of the vast amount of times we as United Methodists repeatedly sat silently asking the Spirit to guide our words and actions in the coming days. We United Methodists are not exactly known for our ability to sit quietly. We’d rather roll up our sleeves and join God’s activity in the world, doing our part.

We closed with Communion.

There were a few things that caught me off guard. First of all that we are in the former home of the St. Louis Rams threw me. The space is so big… but the acoustics were remarkably good! I imagine that they have more than a few concerts in the space. The audio crew knew what they were doing. Also, being that we were in such a big space there was a large gap between the delegates on the floor and “gallery” in the 100 level seats (see photos below).


I’m guessing the reason for the gap was to ensure that the proceedings of the General Conference could go on uninterrupted. A couple of thoughts/ notes:

  • Those round tables outside the bar are for the delegates to be able to have their meals on site and not at the same place as their workspace.
  • Those same tables would be excellent places for reserve delegates to be allowed to sit in case called upon to serve.
  • You might see that the last row of tables inside the bar are set up for members to be seated but they are empty. You’ll be glad to know that delegates were not skipping out. Those tables were not assigned anyone. They are extra.

I found the above printed on the back of our name badges interesting. Maybe they were there before but this time they seem more prominent. I felt safe… but it also felt a little weird… a little militant.

The afternoon was spent going over parliamentary procedure. Boring? Yes. Informative? Definitely. I think I agree with someone I saw on Twitter who commented that after the presentation on proper parliamentary procedure a) we as a body don’t understand parliamentary procedure and b) there’s probably more than one legislative strategy that is going back to the drawing board because we’re going to a “by the book” with a professional parliamentarian.

A lot of folks have been messaging me today asking a form of “how’s the spirit in the room?” Truthfully, I can say I do not know. First, the size of the room makes it difficult to get a sense of how people feel. I think another part of that is that everyone is anxious. We’re not overly joyful—folks understand the seriousness of the reason we’re here—but there’s not any mean-spiritedness either. At least not that I can see/ hear. Yes, the politicking is present and caucus groups are busy doing their work but we haven’t done any legislative work, yet.

A few things to pray about this evening and tomorrow:

  1. Pray for the election of committee officers tomorrow. The outcome of that process will literally make or break this General Conference. That should happen rather early in the day.
  2. Also, pray for the polling of the body on the priority in which petitions are taken up by the body. This will be important.

Lastly: Judicial Council ruled on 2 more petitions tonight. Petition 90052 and 90078 have been declared unconstitutional. You can read the story (with links to the ruling and petitions here.

St. Louis, Here We Come Pt. 3

On my third trip to St. Louis, a mission trip, I remember hanging out downtown–where the old train station had become a downtown mall—the 90’s analogue to today’s “food halls”. The only thing that really sticks in my mind is that this was the first place I saw a shop where they “made” the fudge in front of you. A few of things I reflect on:

  1. You’ve got to pour it all out of the bowl before you start.
  2. You’ve also go to work quick before the fudge cools, otherwise it doesn’t fold. It just breaks.
  3. If you do it right, you’ll wind up with something yummy.
  4. The culinary arts are more of an art than a science.

For us in the Church and those at General Conference:

  1. I don’t think the average United Methodist, lay or clergy, realize the amount of politicking that has gone on in the run up to St. Louis and will happen. Informal sidebars, strategy luncheon, and daily briefings. They’ve already started and the conference doesn’t begin until Saturday! Rather than invite only meetings, secret deals, and strategizing why don’t we do all of our conferencing out in public, before the body of General Conference and the world? Get it all out on the table. Sure, go into executive session if you want but “the light shines in the darkness and darkness has not overcome it.”
  2. Four days is not a long time to conference—three when you realize that Saturday is a day of prayer and preparation. Three days to try to get 50% + 1 to agree to a way forward for The United Methodist Church. Just like the fudge will cease being malleable and foldable once it cools. The closer General Conference gets to Tuesday night’s adjournment, the more rigid I think folk will become.
  3. This is a precious opportunity to truly discern how the Holy Spirit is guiding us. I remember reading about the year General Conference voted to ordain women. It came as a surprise to the General Conference and when it came to the floor, no one thought it would pass. It wound up passing overwhelmingly.
  4. There has been a lot of time and energy spent trying to read the tea leaves—straw polls, surveys, and research performed. I’ll let others proclaim the gift of divination but it seems to me that there are ways for the people called Methodist in America (and the world) to stay united and do faithful ministry in their various contexts. We just need to trust God and each other, believe that God is in the midst of all this, and have the courage to lead and let others lead, as well.

St. Louis Here We Come, Pt. 2

My second visit to “The Gateway to the West” was an ecumenical college student gathering. It was a great event but the one thing frustrated most is that when it came time for New Year’s Eve worship with Communion, we had to gather as different branches of Christianity. The Orthodox and Roman Catholics gathered in their respective spaces. The Episcopalians and Lutherans gathered in another space. Everyone else–including United Methodists–were herded into the “Reformed” worship service.

Reformed!

Someone didn’t do their homework. We are the spiritual children of Wesley, not Calvin and Zwingli!

So more than of few of us United Methodists crashed the Episcopalian/ Lutheran service–the service that represented better which branch of Protestantism we descend from.

I remember talking with some fellow “crashers” of that service and they talked about how uncomfortable they felt in that worship service. I think that was the first time I ever felt a sense of mourning that we as a tradition were drifting away from our uniqueness and into , as the military calls it, “General Protestant” territory. We have an amazing story, and wonderful tradition, and have added much to the mosaic of Christian strains. Do we mourn the fragmented nature of the church? Of course. At that event where we did everything as an ecumenical body but the brokenness of the humanity meant that we could not gather around the same table to celebrate the Eucharist–the very symbol of our oneness with Christ and each oher.

Reflecting in that event all these years later two thoughts come to mind:

  • We need to remember our roots–we are the spiritual children of the Wesley’s. We are, at our roots, a renewal movement within the broader stream of Anglicanism–the home of the via media, a church both Catholic and Protestant. We will spend the next week as a denomination trying to do what no other denomination has done: maintain a global denominational structure, embrace representative democracy as a valid expression of collective wisdom, and find resolution to questions of unity and ministry with people identifying as gay or lesbian. To successfully navigate this next week, we’ll need to lean into our roots and origins.
  • I still reflect on the yucky feeling of the brokenness we felt as we gathered around our various denominational tables for that closing worship service. How many people would come to a relationship with Christ but because of an impoverished visible witness of unity in Christ, they think the Church is nothing but a room full of hypocrites? How many times do folks leave church because we seem to do too good of a job fighting over things that do not ultimately matter instead of practicing hospitality in Jesus’ name and encouraging one another in practicing our faith?

St. Louis Here We Come, Pt 1

Well, General Conference is drawing nigh. Three years of prayer and hard work (and angst-ridden discussion and let’s not forget the politicking and posturing) all draw to a close… or at least find their next articulation… this next week.

In preparation, I’ve been thinking about the other times I’ve been in St. Louis–a family vacation, a mission trip, and an ecumenical young adult conference. From these, several images come to mind. Here’s one. I’ll reflect upon the other ones, later.

Gateway Arch

Of course, the first time anyone is in St. Louis, they are transfixed by the arch. It. Is. Big. How does it stay there? How does it keep from tipping over or sinking into the banks of the Mighty Mississippi?

Traveling with my family as a 5th grader, I could not fathom how to get to the top… to those windows. Who knew that there was an elevator that could move diagonally! I remember laughing with my mother that I thought I could see the Rockies from that outlook. Of course, I couldn’t. But I remember these childhood images and fragments of conversations. The span of years makes them begin to blur. But a question I had then, I still have:

Why is the Arch of St. Louis the gateway to the west and not a stylized bridge spanning the river? This seems to fit better the story of westward expansion.

A gateway is a break in a fence or wall. Anywhere anyone can cross the Mississippi River could be considered a “gateway to the west”. Why not make the arch across the river–a modern day Pillars of Hercules? If we were trying to tell the story of westward expansion wouldn’t a bridge be a better symbol?

In my mind, I’ve been thinking about church and the metaphors of gate and bridge. Do we think of the church as a gate… a guardian… of faith? Or do we think of the church as a bridge… that which connects a someone to a life with Christ?

Gates can be good–when well marked, they provide clear points of entry for people seeking a way in or through. But they can also be considered control points–keeping people out unless they pass muster. This begs the question–does the Spirit and Christ’s Church need check points and bottlenecks that regulate entry and exit? In some sense it seems the answer is “yes”. We have Scripture and the Creeds that create a well delineated boundary for us. They tell us what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Where the metaphor of gate fails the church is when we place ourselves in the position of the gatekeeper. It is powerful temptation to feel it is our ultimate power to decide who is in and who is outside the Body of Christ. Yes, 2,000 years of Spirit-guided tradition has given us what Wesley would say are the “usual” ways God and the Church operate .I find it precarious and not a little bit dangerous to put myself in the role of ultimate arbiter of who is in, who is out; who can pass through the gate and who cannot.

Bridges seem a little bit different. Yes, bridges are located in specific places, thus they are their own point of control. But the metaphor is that of helping someone get across a chasm, not blocking someone from passing. Sure, there will be more than a few trolls under bridges that try to exact a price in order to cross but at its best, bridges are just there silently serving their roll as people pass. If we think of the church as a bridge of faith–helping someone get from where they are to where they need to be in their walk with Christ–then we are not the gatekeeper as much as we are the conduit for the Spirit to move.

Looking forward to this called General Conference, one of the things that has kept surfacing in my prayers has been this–how are we helping to connect people to a life with Jesus and how are we inhibiting it? Yes, I direct that towards questions before the General Conference but I also direct that at all of us and our demeanor, at our motivation, and at the way in which we view one another. In social media, in news accounts, in public and private conversations–can we be the bridge and not the gate? Can we be the conduit of God’s love and grace and let God be God?