On Monday afternoon the General Comference decided not to set term limits for bishops elected in the US. Bishops, once elected, serve until they retire (As long as they stay in good standing). There was an attempt to reduce the members on the General Conference Commission (plans the Gen Conf). It was a cost saving measure. The attempt failed. The body also voted on what languages the Advanced Daily Advocate ( petitions sent to General Conf) will be published in.
At the beginning of the afternoon, we were told that it was the hope that the body would work on 20 petitions today. Well, at 4:35 we have 4 done. Slow going here.
This morning the delegates voted down a petition to create a position for a non-resident bishop who would give full time to running the Council of Bishops. Some feared that the change would creat a "bishop for the bishops" or some type of pope. The Council of Bishops wanted the non-resident bishop, but their arguments did not persuade the body.
The rest of the morning was spent electing people to the Judicial Council (like the Supreme Court of the UMC) and to the University Senate (the body that watches over all UMC higher Ed schools and seminaries)
Electronic key pads are used for voting. It took nearly 1/2 hour for everyone to figure out how to use them. They practiced by electing apostles. Peter was elected.
As we near lunch break, a motion has been made to place term limits on bishops.
Today the final deliberations for additions, deletions and edits to our Book of Discipline begin. These will certainly be five very long days as the delegates maneuver sir way through parliamentary procedure and the work of the legislative committees. I will comment on some of the legislation as it becomes part of the Discipline.
On Saturday afternoon, there was a rally protesting the detention of undocumented immigrants. Speakers talked about the conditions of those jailed for being in the United States without proper documentation. Over 500 people attended the rally.
There have been several rallies during the General Conference, either raising issues or urging delegates to vote to support various issues. Outside the convention center, many people wait with newspapers, pamphlets and handouts from unofficial groups and coalitions within the UMC. People also walk among the crowds carrying signs or stand in silent lines, shoulder to shoulder, showing their solidarity on an issue.
It has been my habit to say, "No, thank you" to the pamphlets and keep walking. On Friday, after I had said no to several people, another offered a flier and, motioning to others holding papers, said, "You can take this one, we're opposed to what they stand for."
With all the "noise" surrounding General Conference, I am wondering how delegates are making prayerful, well-considered decisions.
In the UMC Book of Discipline 2008, Par. 304 discusses the qualifications for ordination. Many petitions came to General Conference concerning Par. 304.3. This paragraph prohibits persons who are self-avowed practicing homosexuals from being candidates for ministry, being ordained and or being appointed to serve in the UMC. Some of the petitions added more detail to the prohibition. Other petitions were offered in attempt to strike the language from the Discipline.
A sub committee of the Faith and Order Committee worked for a day and a half to bring one single petition to the full committee for dicussion. They chose a petition where the language is stronger in excluding people who are gay from being clergy in the UMC.
As I write this, the full committee is about to begin deliberation on this petition. The debate, conducted with parliamentary procedure, has been surrounded by small group discussion and a long time of silent prayer and meditation.
I sit in the "gallery" with about 75 observers. The mood is still and tense.
The work of this committee will reflect whether or not our church practices "open minds, open hearts, open doors."
Each legislative committee is assigned volunteer monitors who have been trained by agencies of theUMC. Their purpose is to monitor that all voices are heard and that discussion does not become hurtful based on demeaning remarks or cultural insensitivity.
Every few hours the monitors stand to offer a report to the committee. Items that have been brought to groups attention: asking the group not to use metaphors or idioms that would not be understood by other cultures, reminding the group to speak slowly for those who need translation, giving counts on how many male and female voices have been heard, giving counts on what percentages by ethnicity have had voice.
We have nothing like this type of reporting in the Detroit Annual Conference. I think it would be great to use this model in legislative committees and in plenary. Heightening awareness to hurtful language or excluding behaviors would be a blessing.
Monitors sit listening at the edge of a legislative committee.
In order to assist and speed the work of the General Conference, the petitions for changes to the Discipline are reviewed by Legislasative Committees. There are 13 Committees that meet together for three days, either as a full committee or broken down into subcommittees. On both Thursday and Friday, I have had the opportunity to both observe committees at work and participate in the work of a committee. Here are some thoughts:
Faith and Order
Early Thursday morning, I received a call that one of our delegates was not feeling well and I was asked to sit on the Faith and Order Legislative Committee. This group considers petitions that have to do with ordination, the doctrine of the church and the global nature of our church. When sub-committees were created, I chose to sit on the Ordination committee. I found myself with people who are very passionate about this issue. Some of that is the result of self-selection for committee work. In the months before General Conference begins, delegates decide what committes they will serve on, being that the Annual Conference is represented in as many Legislative Committees as possible. Once on the committe, delegates can choose their sub-committee. This all seems like a fair process, but it sure can make things unbalanced.
In the sub-committee I sat on 70% of the delegates were men. In addition, it soon became clear that the majority of the committee wanted to either keep the language about fitness for ordination or strengthen the language of exclusion. Currently, according to the Discipline, a person who is "a self-avowed practicing homosexual" cannot serve as an ordained elder or deacon in the UMC.
While the debate remained (mostly) civil, it was clear that the passionate members of the committee each came with a stand on the issue. The parliamentary procedure of amending and voting, amending and voting, set the stage for winners and losers.
I will say more about other committees in another post, but for now I make this observation about each of the committees I have seen at work. The majority are working to maintain the status quo when it comes to excluding people who are gay, lesbian, transgender and bi-sexual in specific and subtle ways.
We can have scripture wars about whether or not this is what Jesus wants for the church, but today I am feeling pain for the people who are "them" to so many of our delegates.
One of the delegates that spoke today, referred to a current news story about an incidenet at a Texas Rangers game. A couple caught a ball in the stands and while they were celebrating, they didn't see the small boy beside them who was crying because he didn't catch the ball. The delegate asked, "There will be those who celebrate a victory because they got what they want, but what about those who are beside them crying?"
Local church membership. Who can join the church. Who gets to decide?
The vocation of the laity to discern decision for the body.
Page 1344 passed by one vote allowing an appeals process in local church if membership denied.
These are the translator booths for the plenary sessions of General Conference. There are also translator booths in each of the committee meeting rooms.
The work of translating the work of General Conference for delegates is a daunting task. Not only are there translators at the plenary sessions, but in every committee and sub committee. Translators assist non-English speakers by translating what they hear and what they want to say. I have had the opportunity to speak in a committee. I spoke carefully, pausing between each phrase. Since every word must be translated, proceedings can be slow going. In addition, often translators or non-English speakers are asking English speakers to slow down. It makes for some confusion and frustration for all.
But there is another kind of "confusion" that is delightful and Spirit-filled happening here in Tampa. Whenever we are led to pray the Lord's Prayer, we are asked to pray in our native language. The sound of prayer, the same prayer, offered with so many voices in so many languages is like a refreshing wind.
Prayer connects us to God. The Lord's Prayer, when we pray together, is connecting United Methodists here in Tampa and around the world.
I had the opportunity to visit with seminary students from Clairmont Theological School.
Okay, I had a motive. I wanted to convince them to serve in the Detroit Conference or to be an ambassodor for us back in California. I had help. Elbert and Dawn Dulworth (Elbert was recently appointed the District Superintendent of the Marquette District) and Ang Hart (Conference for Director of Youth and Young Adults) came along.
The three students came from various backgrounds and were in school with different goals. One was working on an MA and heading toward a PhD. Her goal was to specialize in Christian/Islamic dialogue and she is currently studying the history of Arab Christianity. Another woman is workig toward a degree in counseling. She is a life-long United Methodist who studies at the seminary nearest to where her naval career spouse is stationed. The third is on the Elder track in the California-Pacific Conference with an emphasis on campus ministry. The days of the traditional MDiv to Elder movement are over,
The students talked about pursuing specific calls and minitries. And we talked aboout the diverse opportunities in the Detroit Conferenc. What we had in common was a heart for transformatinal minbistry. What a blessing to find our commonalities and to be able to "sell" the Detroit Conference. It was a treat to hear the dreams and aspirations of seminary students. I've met a few other seminary students from other UM schools in my time here. I am very hopeful.
"if God can bring to life a crucified Christ, certainly God can to bring to life a calcified church." Bishop Bob Weaver
The bishop reminded delegates who we are, what we do and how we do it. We are a people united by the resurrection of Chrsit, despite our many differences. We are called to make disciples to transform the world. Our mission is the manifestation of resurrection.
Too often church members believe the reason to invite and nurture disciples is to get more people in the pews and more dollars in the plate. This will not transform people or the world in the name of Jesus Chris. Until individuals are passionate about God in their lives and asking about their role in God's reign, we will not be making disciples, just filling the membership roles.
Bishop Weaver said, "Too many congregations have forsaken the 'Let's go!' of the Great Commission for the 'status quo' of no mission."
This afternoon there was a session for first time delegates. Things started out a bit confused because the translator mics weren't completely set up. So the speaker who was greeting the crowd of over 300 had two translators (Swahili and French) standing beside him repeating each phrase. There was also a translator who stood up and explained everything in French and Portugese. Finally, the translators were all set to go, and many of the delegates tuned their wireless headsets to the right language channel and we were on our way. When a delegate that did not speak English had a question, and interpreter would race over to the mic to interpret between the parties. The global nature of our church was evident in that room.
The cultural divides that separate us as people from many nations soon began to emerge. Westerners asked questions about process and logistics. Delegates from Africa asked where they would find conference materials translated into French. One woman asked what to do if she lost her room key. Another asked about bottled water and noted how expensive it was in the hotel room. It ocurred to me that in many developing nations the safe water is the bottled water. The moderator answered two questions about bottled water the best he could, until someone pointed out that everyone needed to know that the tap water was safe. Oh yeah, maybe everyone doesn't know that.
It is interesting to consider the assumptions that we make when we are the dominant culture in a place. I wonder if this small incident might reflect our western cultural assumptions when we look at the rest of the world.
This morning I received a "Gender Analysis tool". Delegates have been asked to consider petitions being sensitive to gender bias, shifts in power and authority, and legislation that sets one constituency against another.
It reminds me of a petition I came across in the Judcial Administration section for an amendment to paragraph 2701, "Exception to Presumption of Innocence". The petition would change the Discipline to read that when a woman brings charges against a male clergy for sexual conduct, the accused loses all rights under the discipline if the presiding bishop believes the charges to be true. It is interesting to me that we remain in an age where gender bias and issues of power must still be pointed out.
I came across this article in The Christian Century. Interesting read. It seems that some mainline denominations are working to adjust to starting new churches in our changing culture. They are encouraging young clergy and lay people with a passionate faith and an entrepreneurial spirit to start faith communities. This new form of church rises organically in a community and is recognized by the denomination.
No, while a UMC leader was quoted, there were no examples of this type of experimental ministry in the UMC. It doesn't mean they don't exist (look to Carl Gladstone's efforts in Detroit.) However, our system makes this type of creative church planting difficult. "Stream Line" and "Fast Track" are not common terms in UM circles,,
General Conference will deal with legislation tied to the Call to Action report (find the report at umc.org), but as far as I can tell, we're not going to be legislating a culture of passionate spiritual entrepreneurs. My prayer is that God will lead us to creative ways to be the church, despite ourselves.
The confirmation class of First United Methodist Church rehearsed for Confirmation Sunday on Saturday. This group of 8th graders has been studying about the church, learning about Wesleyan theology and tradition, and serving people in need. These youth have decided to reaffirm the vows taken for them at their baptisms and to become members of the United Methodist Church.
As I prepare to participate in General Conference, I will hold this picture of exuberant youth before me. Decisions made in the next two weeks will shape their church. How will they be encouraged in faithfulness in young adulthood. How will they continue to be a vital part of the Body of Christ? What courageous decisions will shape a living, dynamic church where these brand new members of the United Methodist Church can be transformed by God to transform the world?
On the right, all reading materials for General Conference 2012. This includes the Book of Discipline, The Book of Resolutions, a General Conference Handbook, and two books with thousands of petitions that will be considered.
On the left, all of the reading materials in electronic format and more.