Safe and sound at home, I've had some time to reflect my experiences at General Conference.
First and foremost, the community formed with David MacDonald for me was vital. David and I were able to share together throughout conference. I am indebted with his company and his sharing!
Likewise, to the other members of our community, Tim, Jane, Mary K., Cindy and Carletha, and Krysta for including me and making me a part of you and your world. You will continue in my life for a long time. (Yes. Tim, email me!)
Along with Marlene, Kathy, Dennis, Dale, Bob, and all the other Marshals and Pages, thank you. Leadership from Dick, Francey, David and Mark kept us on our toes and smiling and laughing. Thanks to a great leadership team.
Second, I believe I now understand that the local church really is not that much different from General Conference. There might be different levels with different perceptions, but overall, each is reflective of the other.
Third, issues of inclusiveness will continue to divide the church unless meaningful dialogue and holy conferencing can happen amongst delegates who are not looking for particular outcomes, but are led not by their own will, but by God's Spirit. Can we ever come to a time in the church when we listen in love?
Finally, we need to acknowledge our oneness and our brokenness. Michael Card speaks of a broken heart at the center of birng able to love God more fully. Perhaps
we need our hearts broken. My heart was broken by the stories about Nothing But Nets and the Hope for Africa Choir and by the witness on the floor of Conference Thursday. There were many joyful and painful moments where we saw brokenness, healing restored, hope lost and regained, a full range.
For a more full discussion of final actions, please visit http://www.umc.org/ and link to General Conference 2008 in the upper right.
Grace and Peace,
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
The events of the day did not find much affirmation for inclusiveness. While there were no major steps back, there was little movement towards acceptance. The positive movement of the day had to do with rejecting homophobia, though some of the language of debate was reported to be a bit rough.
I had high hopes of this conference moving toward productivity and in some cases, such as the election of Judicial Council members, it has. Today, though, I'm sensing a great deal of frustration because the church has not moved forward.
The high spots, as I can see them, were in Fred Brewington's impassioned plea to support the majority report from CS2 on Human Sexuality, or the simplicity of Zachary Allen's presentation in his presentation of the minority report from Faith and Order regarding exclusionary language, that was basically the three simple rules.
The protest was peaceful, and seemingly non-disruptive, as those participating stood and sang. We will see what tomorrow brings.
Not everyday is victorious. David reminded me that when you're vertical and breathing, maybe that's enough.
This is the life of the United Methodist Church, sometimes embracing, sometimes standing still.
One more perspective: most of what I heard tonight brought scripture with interpretation. Many are able to proof-text. What we may miss is the overall message that Christ brings for all, that there is acceptance. When will we be able to have that conversation about acceptance as United Methodists?
Tomorrow is another opportunity.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Part of being a Marshal is building a community with other Pages and Marshals. To that end, we took our off time to go to the Fort Worth Stockyards to share a meal and some of our lives together. It is amazing how the Holy Spirit can work to bring together people who can be good friends! With thanks to Marlene( who drove from the convention center), Tim (who drove home), Mary K., Jane, and David.....thanks for the friends you are!
I had to arrive for an early shift today and I got to spend some time passing out handout for delegates and preparing for the session. the Hope for Africa Children's Choir from Uganda has sung yesterday and was preparing to sing today. These were children who were orphaned, some by AIDS, and had no future, until a UM sponsored school gave them hope and life and food and an opportunity to praise God. Their story is truly one of hope in Africa and they were here! I got to high-five everyone of them and it was great to hear them sing again!
Hearing the president of Liberia speak today was moving. The first democratically elected woman as head of state in Africa in a country that has been through revolution and upheaval,
Ellen John Sirlea told the General Conference that she was proud of the church that had educated and helped to influence her life and that the church was relevant to face the challenges not only of Africa, but of the whole world.
The rest of General Conference actually seems a bit slow, but anxiety is building with the amount of legislation still to be worked. Today, there were some actions taken that had some effect, like potentially changing the number of bishops in 2012 in the U.S. What lies underneath is a feeling that Bishops are inconsequential to the growth in U.S. Churches, but vitally needed for church growth in Africa. Visionary leadership is important and helpful, but many of the delegates wanted action now while others wanted a study to best deploy bishops throughout the Central Jurisdiction.
A significant piece of legislation that General Conference chose to table indefinitely was that of the Church and Society Endowment Fund for the Building in Washington, D.C. The outcome will leave the lawsuit out of the hands of the discipline and the minority report turned out to be non-factual.
Beyond this, the wheels of General Conference are moving very slowly. There are three days left in which to accomplish a lot of work. Let us see what develops!
The plenary session of General Conference will now take center stage as most of the Legislative Committees have finished their work and and are presenting it to the entire body of delegates.
Yesterday, work was finished on a study committee for the organization of Regional Conferences and a committee to begin preparation of a new hymnal to be presented in 2012. The retirement age of Bishops was extended
Much of the discussion is well-thought out. A concern was raised by a young person from the Missouri Conference as to the new hymnal being too dated before it is published and the need for it to be shared through multimedia. A Africana hymnal was also approved.
Most legislative committees finished their work Sunday. Some were still meeting yesterday in hopes of concluding as soon as possible.
The feeling from the floor is that the decisions that the plenary is making are good and solid. We will see what today brings, as the President of Liberia brings us a message this afternoon.
I do need to share and celebrate my other Marshals and Pages, with whom I am sharing community and the task of conference. We are having fun serving Christ together and sharing together when we are not serving.
Keep praying for General Conference as we continue. While I had last night off, my understanding is that plenary went very late and will run late tonight when I am on.
Grace and Peace,
Monday, April 28, 2008
Bill Lawrence, Dean of Perkins School of Theology, and former clergy member of the Wyoming Conference, now from North Texas was elected as a clergy member of the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church. Along with Bill's election was F. Belton Joyner (who wrote the Unofficial Handbook for United Methodist Clergy and the Unofficial Guide for United Methodists) from the North Carolina Conference and Kathi Austin Mahle, from Minnesota Conference.
These look like good signs for the life of the General Church!
Much of my last three days has been spent as a Marshal serving legislative committees of the General Conference. I have served Judicial Administration, Superintendency, and Church and Society 2 (CS2). As I posted below, much of the work of General Conference is done in legislative committees as they take the thousands of petitions, sort through them, sometimes accept them, sometimes reject them, sometimes bundle or acceptance or rejection, and in a process where the committee breaks into sub-committees to look at the petitions, to read every petition and give each its due.
It is hard and difficult work. The delegates must talk to each other to create not just a legislative or political consensus. What they are trying to do is to do Holy Conferencing, where the Holy Spirit is part of the process and each person's contribution is valued and appreciated.
The delegates must do this around all the hot-button issues, with visitors, who are concerned about outcomes watching and taking notes. The hope is for both the delegates and visitors to find a way to live in community together and this has happened in many cases.
The interesting thing about Holy Conferencing, not just in legislative committees, not just at General Conference, is that it is what the church ought to be about, at every level, from individual Bible Study right up to General Conference Plenary. So why aren't we?
It relates to what I have experienced so far. A lot of what happens here is vitally important to the life of the local church. The relevance of all of General Conference, from worship to plenary to committees to celebrations does have a place in the life of the local church. Whether or not it gets there has to do with those of us who are here and our attitude towards General Conference. Either we believe it is our personal and private experience; or it is the celebration of the Church of Jesus Christ, alive in the world, the future of hope.
Maybe power of Holy Conferencing is bigger than cell phones and maybe it is the whole church reaching out to all the church!
Today, I will be serving in the visitors area, so it should be an easy day for me, after two extremely late nights of counting votes and delegates in CS2.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Links so you can reading UM reporting on the issue of cell phones:
Please read these for more information concerning the previous post. Your comments welcome!