Wednesday, April 30, 2008
The day began innocently enough. The Western Jurisdiction meeting was light and hopeful with understanding that not all the votes would go the way most western delegates would prefer.
Mary and I shared a fun moment running to Starbucks to get the delegation on the floor their supply of coffee for the day. It seemed like an appropriate Northwest moment.
We learned that the "Global Ministries Committee" was still meeting and as of the morning there were still 120 "calendar items" to go. On average this meant we would have ten minutes for each item.
After an Africa University presentation it was time to get started with Church and Society II at 10:55 A.M.
We began with a proposed new Social Creed. It was presented as a litany and it works well that way. Eventually after much debate instead of replacing the social creed we added the litany to be alongside the creed. It should be a powerful worship document. This passed at 11:46 A.M.
There were several petitions going fairly quickly then we came to #1195 making a statement opposing homophobia and heterosexism. FIRST, let me tell you that the body approved the statement. So the UMC is NOT in favor of homophobia. However, one of the most painful moments of the day occurred in the debate when one of the African delegates was translated to have said "It is too bad the United Methodist Church is advocating things that come from the devil." This was a terribly painful moment for many. There is obviously a huge cultural divide in the United Methodist Church presently and we MUST do something about our relationship with those in the central (international) churches.
We then adjourn for lunch.
Coming back from lunch there was a silent demonstration as we entered the convention center with people forming lines to be a witness as we entered. I signed "Thank You" to many of them as I entered.
After lunch I began to take my seat at the visitors section when David comes to me with the pass for reserves and he hands it to me. I said, "Really?" I was so honored for David to give me his seat for this important afternoon. (It is also worth noting that Elaine gave her seat to Sharon as well.)
We started with what I was the proposal that I published here last night. It WOULD have replaced the phrase "incompatible with Christian teaching" in paragraph 161 (but that phrase IS also found also in paragraph 340.)
Page # 2266, Item #1186, Petition# 80449, Page #324 in the ADCA. (Yes it takes us all those numbers to work out what is before us.!) This begins at 2:45
Some notable events from the debate. People from Texas speak FOR inclusion! 3:25 and amendment failed that made me begin to think that we might actually replace paragraph 161. Then another attempt to amend fails 60 - 40. Finally at 3:45 we are voting on all that is before us. I need to explain that there was also a "Minority Report." In the interest of avoiding a long discussion about General Conference Parliamentary procedure let us just say that this was an alternate to the statement I reported to you dear readers yesterday and it retains the damaging language. The Minority Report is what eventually passed by a margin of 55% to 45%.
This is a historically narrow result. Those who are working for inclusion gained SO MUCH! In order to achieve this result many votes for inclusion had to come from the southern conferences. Obviously it was a very emotional time. Then we had a life memory holy moment.
Immediately following the vote the chair was trying to get us to a 20 minute recess. However, in order to do that he had to have a report for the judicial council, which was at least 4 pages of text that the secretary of the conference had to read out loud. As I was listening to this Mary sends me a text, "look behind you." Behind us the RMN folks in the visitor sections were all standing in witness. Then others on the floor began to stand. Slowly word got to the front and according to one person on the podium 45% of the floor was standing and 80% of the gallery. As more began to stand from the back came music in the form of "Jesus loves me . . ." A thousand people begin singing in witness, all while the poor secretary is still droning out the judicial council report. I will never forget that moment. It was a powerful witness.
So while the vote did not go the way many of us might have hoped, change is coming.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
It is likely that the Church and Society II committee will present their report on Human Sexuality. There are two reports, one from the committee and a minority report. This will be tense. The sub-committee and the full committee felt good about their work and as I said before it feels like a step forward. I have no idea if it will pass on the floor but I wanted to share it with y'all.
The petition would amend Paragraph 161 G in the 2004 Book of Discipline to read as follows.
161 G Human Sexuality. We recognize that sexuality is God's good gift to all person. We believe person may be fully human only when that gift is acknowledged and affirmed by themselves, the church, and society. we call all persons to the disciplined, responsible fulfillment of themselves, others and society in the stewardship of this gift. We also recognize our limited understanding of this complex gift and encourage the medical, theological, and social science disciplines to combine in a determined effort to understand human sexuality more completely. United Methodists, along with other Christians, have struggled to find principles for applying traditional teachings to contemporary understandings of human sexuality. We recognize that sexuality is part of the larger human mystery, to be received and acknowledged in grateful responsibility. We reject all sexual expressions that damage or destroy the humanity God has given us. we deplore all forms of the commercialization and exploitation of sexual relations, with their consequent cheapening and degradation of human personality. We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation or use of children by adults and encourage efforts to hold perpetrators legally and financially responsible. We call for adequate protection, guidance, and counseling for children thus abused. we believe that the Church family should support all families in providing age-appropriate education regarding sexuality to children, youth, and adults. We challenge all members of our community of faith to commitment, integrity and fidelity in their sexual relationships. We know that all are God's children and of sacred worth. Yet we have been, and remain, divided regarding homosexual expressions of human sexuality. Faithful, thoughtful people who have grappled with this issue deeply disagree with one another; yet all seek a faithful witness. We continue to reason and pray together with faith and hope that the Holy Spirit will soon bring reconciliation to our community of faith. The fire in our disagreements points to a deeper human mystery than we knew. We believe that the Spirit has brought our collective conscience to acknowledge this mystery more honestly, and to make our claims with greater humanity before God and our neighbors. we therefore ask the Church, United Methodist and others, and the world, to refrain from judgement regarding homosexual persons and practices until the Spirit leads us to new insight. In the meantime, let us seek to welcome, know, forgive, and love one another as Christ has accepted us, that God may be glorified through everything in our lives.
This does not replace the statement "Homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" in paragraph 304 that has to do with ordination. I believe the committee has kept that phrase. Of course this is a bit ironic where in this statement we acknowledge our lack of understand and in another we condemn.
Tonight and this morning I simply ask that you pray for the Conference and all that will be before us. We do now know what will happen but we believe in a "Future with Hope."
Most delegates again had a night of 4-5 hours of sleep. We ended the plenary session around 11:20. Then two committees went until about 12:45 still trying to finish their work. Global Ministries is taking the longest amount of time. The western jurisdiction then has a 7:00 meeting that most make an attempt to attend.
I am unsure how "holy" the conferencing will be as this sleep deprivation continues.
I have been debating in my mind whether I should go back and correct errors in my previous posting. I am leaning against it as the errors are also part of the General Conference experience. The learning curve is very high. I have been full of questions for whoever is sitting near me:Who is that, why did that just happen, when will this be coming up etc. etc. I was reassured nicely by Craig when he said, "That's OK no one can keep up with all of this stuff." If Craig can't no one can.
As I am typing this, Bishop Swenson is presiding with Bishop Talbert and Bishop Tuell supporting her. A great representation of leadership that has served the PNW in a variety of ways. Sitting next to me is Sharon who came into the PNW in the same year that I attended my first Annual Conference as a page while Bishop Talbert was our resident Bishop. I love all these United Methodist connections!
Just after lunch I bumped into a friend from my seminary days. It was great to see her. She is now a D.S. in Oklahoma! Franke is so good.
WOW, David wants me on the floor! Gotta Go.
So . . . When I got to the floor there was a debate about the United Methodist Mission. It was in danger of being added onto to the point of meaninglessness. In the end we said that "The Mission of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples for the transformation of the world."
My first opportunity to use the voting machine . . . I vote to add Bermuda to the NE Jurisdiction!
We passed a resolution to add a minimum of 100 delegates to the Jurisdictional conference. This will increase the number for the Western Jurisdiction by nearly 20. I believe this takes effect in 2012.
We had a fantastic time with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from Liberia. She called us to address the world needs around the issues of poverty. It was an especially powerful witness as she is a United Methodist lay person and was educated in a United Methodist high school in Africa.
I had a fun dinner with a group of guys with RMN ties. One was from a large downtown church in Atlanta that he described as a "gay" church, but hasn't joined the RMN. It was great to talk with a SE Jurisdiction person about the issues of inclusion.
After dinner the vote on the Episcopacy Study was brought to the floor agian. After much confusion (and much is still fuzzy to me) we voted to reduce the number of Bishops in each Jurisdiction (except the SE) by one. I believe this takes effect September 1, 2012. So that should add some fun to Jurisdictional conference.
I might actually get to bed by 10:oo tonight! Yippee!!!
Just wanted to insert a few of the other significant items that passed the floor.
We are now in full communion with the ELCA. Which, until a few years ago I would have assumed we already were. So now Lutherans and United Methodist fully recognize each others orders and sacramental authority.
We are going to be "revising" the hymnal. This will end up being a new hymnal to be presented to the General Conference in 2012 and published around 2013.
Bishops can now retire at age 68 instead of 66.
We are having some trouble with the PNW blog, well at least I am having trouble logging in so that I can post over there.
Some things I am fuzzy on (well almost everything now that I have had yet another day of 4 hours sleep.)
I believe we have delayed the change to regional conferences and established a task force to come with a more comprehensive proposal in 2012.
I believe we have established that we are sticking with the same number of bishops, so we will be voting for 2 at Jurisdictional this year.
Monday, April 28, 2008
Anyway a time-line of the day so far:
5;45 Here we go again
6;40 Where’s Nico? Oh wait he’s sitting right behind me. What? All the young adults are ready to go?
7:00 Western Jurisdiction meeting
7:02 6 committees have finished their work. Finance and Administration spent 3.5 hours on a discussion about pensions. Committee on Higher Education voted for minimum time of probationary relationship toward full clergy membership to be 2 years instead of the current 3. There is more work coming on the orders. Superintendency rejected a reduction of bishops (If it passes the floor this is very important for large geographical areas like the PNW.) Also it is being recommended to raise the episcopal retirement age to 68 instead of the current 66.
7:23 We talked about the Judicial Council slate
8:00 Worship “Building Hope.”
9:05 call to order
9:11 Committee on Agenda and Calendar reports that there are 6 committees still meeting. Three will meet during lunch, two at dinner and Church and Society II will meet in the afternoon until they have finished.
9:30 Katrina Report. We are reminded that help is still needed. In a moving testimony one pastor recalled that when he came to the remains of his church building the hymnbook he say was open to page 707 “The Hymn of Promise.” He said, “I knew there would continue to be a church here.”
9:45 Election process begins. The floor spends a half hour working out issues with the electronic voting devices. Once again to test the system they vote for their favorite apostle. John is elected on the first ballot.
10:15 Voting begins
10:22 Both Lay members of the Judicial Council are elected
10:40 Three clergy members are elected completing a sweep for the alternate slate to the “Good News”, “IRD”, “Confessing Movement” slate.
10:40 I begin writing a blog about the elections
11:10 More plenary session fun, motions, amendments, defeating amendments.
12:05 It takes 35 minutes on ONE MOTION!
12:10 Report of the 60th Anniversary of “The Advance.” This is money donated for particular designated funds around the world.
12:30 Lunch Break Begins, Where is David?
1:00 David tells me about $25 robes at Cokesbury. I buy one for a mission effort.
1:30 Still in the Cokesbury store, I decide today is the dayto buy gifts
1:50 I visit the Philippine delegation. Meet an associate director of Church and Society and have a good conversation.
2:30Plenary is begining again.
4:00 Time to write a blog.
5:00 Time to get ready to go to the Bishop's dinner.
5:30 Hey Jenny, do you know where the Bishop's dinner is?
I am happy to report that you cannot buy an election at General Conference! None of the “Good News” endorsed candidates were elected.
I failed to mention yesterday that the “moderates” and “liberals” did eventually get a slate and they have all been elected.
Angela Brown for (Cal Pac? Cal Nevada?) was the first lay elected! Rubeun Reyes from the Philippines was second.
3 Clergy have also been elected. Kathi Austin Mahle, Belton Joyner, William Lawrence were elected.
It only took 3 elctions to get the clergy elected. After the many ballots for General Conference delegates at Annual Conference I was very surprised at how quickly this went.
I am very excited about this news. The “Good News” group can buy all the phones they want, they can’t buy and election!
More later . . .
Sunday, April 27, 2008
The most important piece of news that I have is that Church and Society II passed a statement that according to a couple of discussions I have had, basically says, “we agree to disagree.” I haven’t seen the statement yet so I don’t know the exact wording or what it replaces. This is a step forward, not a big one, but a step. Now lets see what the floor does with it.
The leather chairs in the hall must be pretty comfortable, one of our delegates has been asleep in one for the past hour!
I had an opportunity to say hello to Bishop Huie. She was my District Superintendent while I was on my internship in San Angelo. She recognized me but didn’t know from when or where, but I thought that was cool. It was nice to talk with her again. She is really happy with what is happening in Houston.
Looks like both Church and Society committees will be going late. I am going to try to get a full nights sleep so I am well rested for the next week.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be nice, There is no such thing as a free lunch, laughter is a universal language, Robert Rules, Name Rank and Serial number, Roam if you want to, Fashion accessories of GC2008, Personal Day.
OK, here is my promised rant regarding the Judicial Council (here after called JC) process. About two weeks before General Conference I began receiving mailing for JC candidates. I had a hunch there were from “conservatives” but the mailings were pretty vague and said things about the candidates. Then a few days before GC I received a very nice looking two page full color brochure advocating for a slate of JC candidates and the brochure made it clear that this was endorsed the “Good News” group.
The process for Judicial Council is essentially this. The bishops bring a list of nominations to the floor. Then the floor is invited to add names to the list. Then 48 hours later voting begins (Monday for this year.) You can see the advantage of having and advanced slate to advocate for. Name familiarity is important in elections and getting the names out early seems like a good idea.
Well, upon arrival to GC2008 the western jurisdiction and other moderate to liberal groups had as of yet to identify their “slate.” This is totally my humble opinion but sometimes us liberals are too dang inclusive for our own good. We want everyone to have an opportunity. So we are reluctant to name our favorites in the fear we might hurt someone’s feelings. Meanwhile the organized fundamentalist group is kicking our butt!
OK That was the first rant. rant number two. When I was in college one of my history professor’s loved to use the phrase, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” (He was a United Methodist layman too by the way.) Anyway, I mentioned before the controversy of the cell phones that were handed out to 150 central conference delegates. I understand they have been put in an awkward position. On one hand they have simply accepted a free gift like others of us have accepted free lunches, dinners, pedometers, water bottles, Hymnals etc. However, if the Good News group wanted to simply offer the gifts with no strings attached they certainly wouldn’t have suggested who the delegates should support for Judicial Council and they could have considered giving the gifts anonymously! (Hmmm, seems like the gospel says something about giving alms in secret . . .) I hope this one backfires on the Good News group! This obvious attempt to buy votes is just not on.
During the lunch break I sat in with David Valera on a gathering of the Filipino delegations. (Did David tell me there are 21 Annual Conferences in the Philippines? I think he did!) It was a great gathering to be a part of as they were full of laughter although I couldn’t understand most of the conversation, it seemed like a family gathering. I could also see that David has a good relationship with them. I hope that I get an opportunity in the next couple of years to go and experience the Philippines for myself.
OMG, I have been very surprised at the lack of expertise the committee chairs have shown regarding basic parliamentary procedure. One committee I was observing was in total shambles as they spent an HOUR discussing how to process the work of the sub-committee. I was going crazy in the visitor area. Eventually a parliamentarian was called, then the problem was magnified in that the chair and vice chair didn’t know how to explain the mess the committe was in. It was excruciating! I expect these sort of moments at Annual Conference but GENERAL Conference! We have over 100 Bishops hanging around. Can’t we find 13 retired bishops to sit in on the committee meetings to act as parliamentarians? When the GC plenary is in session the presiding Bishop always has two others sitting behind her or him and often they discuss what the best ruling is for the chair.
I also wanted to mention one of the interesting social aspects of General Conference. There is a clear hierarchy. Delegates have a red background on their name-tags, reserve delegates have brown, some group has green (marshals and pages?) visitors have white, I think bishops are purple but they don’t seem to wear their name-tags much (they have those cool episcopal lapel pins after all.) And there is always this fun experience when meeting someone and they stare at your name badge to learn your ranking and/or where you are from. Oh, a reserve from the PNW, you can almost see the ranking going on in the delegate’s mind.
The advantage of being a second class General Conference citizen is that you are free to observe any committee at any time. So today instead of staying with one I went to three. The disadvantage is that I didn’t get to learn many specifics (although, I can report that the sexuality committee is really dedicated to their agreement to disagree, which led to a crushing defeat of some of the most scary exclusive language petitions. ) It was good to observe more of the General Conference in action.
There are fashion statements to be made at General Conference. Actually, I have been surprised at how few suits there are. And today the Kansas delegates were all wearing Kansas Jayhawk NCAA Men’s Basketball Champion 2008 T-Shirts. Apparently Bishop Jones is a big fan and he also was wearing a T-Shirt. They have challenged the delegates of North Carolina, Cal Pac and Tennessee to beat their donations to the Nothing but Nets campaign! HOWEVER, the real fashion accessory for General Conference is what I call “The Wheelie Bag” they come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors but they all have one thing in common. They are a pain to wheel through the crowded halls of General Conference. I went and bought a large computer bag with wheels and a handle to carry the many books and my computer around the conference. Apparently every other delegate had the same idea. Perhaps Marie should get video of all of us wheeling our bags around the corridors.
Well, Tonight I am not setting the alarm and I am sleeping in!!! I then intend to go to church at my friend Wes’ church. Wes and I were buddies at seminary and we went to England at the same time. So I am really looking forward to seeing him.
5:45 Oh God, its already time to get up again.
6:30 Free breakfast in the hotel. Clint discovers Texas shaped waffles.
6:45 Hurry up kids its time to get in the car, where is Nico?
7:00 Western Jurisdictional meeting. Bishop Paup talks about some issues regarding GBGM and the “Nothing but Nets” campaign. There is some discussion about the “Nothing but Nets” and some inter-agency issues. UMComm had a major role in the campaign and some feel that it belongs in GBGM. (I don’t care who does it, I’m just thankful for the success of the campaign so far.)
7:10 We hear reports from the delegates and observers from the committees. This is a confusing time as all the committees are in or have just finished sub-committee work, and while a sub-committee may have taken a particular action it is impossible to predict what the full committee or the floor will do with that action.
Having said that: Some of the big things going on are:
1) Financing Bishops. There was a proposal to have Jurisdictions pay for Bishops. Presently this is paid from General Conference apportionments. The west would be very much hurt by this as at present giving we only pay for what one delegate said was 3.2 bishops. That would be a reduction of 2.8 of our present episcopal leadership.
2) There was a wholesale rejection of petitions placing the pastor as the sole authority for church membership. This is in response to petitions regarding a judicial council decision upholding a pastor’s decision to refuse a man membership on the basis that he was a gay man. I believe that this means that the sub committee is upholding that the church council in consultation with the pastor makes decisions about membership. Thus rejecting the Judicial Council’s ruling.
3) The sexuality sub committee has a compromise proposal that is a very small baby step toward inclusion, Mary has been observing them perhaps she will blog about it soon. As I understand it, the sub committee has created a statement that we agree to disagree, which oddly enough is a small step forward. In 2004 a similar petition was made and rejected by committee, I believe. So we still have a ways to go with that one.
7:45 Discussion about judicial council nominees. (Perhaps I will write another post to rant about this later.)
7:55 I learn that the “Good News” caucus gave cell phones to central conference delegates, primarily those from Africa. What? OMG! Rumor has it that those phones were used yesterday to inform those delegates who to support for the Judicial Council. (Yet another possible rant for later.)
8:15 worship begins with a youth drama group called “The Strangely Warmed Players.” (A reference to John Wesley’s statement that his heart was strangely warmed and he knew that he was a loved child of God.) They brought a comical and yet clear message for the church to be in mission.
The sermon from Bishop Hutchinson felt like an old tyme revival. It was great and nearly brought me to tears. It was a very moving testimony challenging us to not only have the form of religion but also the power. (A good Wesleyan reference.) We were encouraged to “Let Jesus and the Holy Spirit loose” in ourselves and our churches.
9:15 Report from the committee of Agenda. I Vote against the agenda for tomorrow! I am kind of grumpy about the agenda of a full working day on Sunday for the General Conference.
9:25 We are presented with the consent calendar items thus far to come from committee. Two of them are a bit troubling. One would change the language in paragraph 164 in the Book of Discipline deleting the sentence “Though coercion, violence, and war are presently the ultimate sanctions in international relations, we reject them as incompatible with the gospel and spirit of Christ.” In its place is a longer statement that doesn’t do much for me. The elimination of the word “incompatible” may be significant. As that word is part of the infamous “incompatible with Christian Teaching” phrase in regards to homosexuality.
On a positive note there is a consent calendar item that will require all General church agencies to “work with Annual Conferences and United Methodist Camps and Retreat Centers to develop recommendations and resources that would guide the United Methodist Church in reducing our carbon dioxide impact.” Further “The report to the 2012 General Conference should; create a plan for evaluating the current status of contributions to global warming throughout the United Methodist connection by churches, institutions and staff; create specific recommendations for reduction of contributions to global warming such as: solar panels or other renewable energies, meetings by conference call rather than driving, insulating buildings etc. Develop an ecumenical effort to support changes which reduce global warming.
9:37 Rural Life celebration.
I take this time to read that “Hero” report which is from the GCSRW and GCORR. These two groups monitor participation in all General Conference proceedings in regards to diversity of gender and race. The report proclaims that this is the most diverse General Conference in history. 56% of Legislative committee officers are Female! 36% of all Legislative committee officers are African American, 8% are Central Conference (international) delegates.
10:40 We take a break. Clint and I arrange for another BBQ exploration in Ft. Worth.
11:00 The presiding Bishop tries to bring us back to order. Mary and I are the only PNW delegates at our chairs on time.
11:02 A video begins reminding us of the difficulties for retired clergy in the Central Conferences. (We must do more to support our international clergy!)
11:17 Motion for 2012 to have an Ethics Committee. My brain gets lost in the wording. I vote because Amory did, later I find out we voted to refer. This comes from the Cell Phone issue.
11:21 A report from from the Episcopacy Study.
11:40 A report from the Study committee on the relationship between the UMC and the Autonomous Methodist Churches in Latin America and the Caribbean. Bishop Galvan is part of the presentation.
12:15 We recess and Mary and I hand in our passes for the floor. :(
Friday, April 25, 2008
Trying to sleep during worship. Fun and games with Robert's rules. Mmmmm mudbugs. Hymnal?
I'm tired. Two nights with 4 hours of sleep. I tried to catch up with some sleep during the sermon in morning worship. I know I shouldn't admit it but there it is the horrible truth. It didn't work, but I tried.
We arrived to the committee to discover they had put the "bar" back up so that the whole committee could work on petitions that would effect the budget. There was the usual parliamentary confusion that happens when church committees get together whether it is the PNW Annual Conference. All too boring to go into here but I found amusement with the process. I know I have an illness, I enjoy the machinations of parliamentary procedure.
I had lunch at a fun "Cajun Cafe" called "Razzoos." Apparently you are a "Razzoo" if:
- You have more bowlin, hotrod or karate trophies than books.
- You have more than 10 garage sales a year.
- You miss all weddings, kids recitals and funerals because "Its Dove season."
- You think a styrofoam cooler is personal luggage.
- You know more than 5 NASCAR driver or car sponsor names.
I had the "Cajun Etoufee" (et-two-fay) with "mudbugs" (crawfish.) Mmmm cajun cooking, its been a while since I have had crawfish and mmmm it was good.
I had my first experience of "observer discrimination." The sub committee was given a gift from the publishing house, General Conference commemorative Hymnals. I was kind of bummed about that. Then of course the sub committee began a discussion about the "Hymnal Revision Committee."
I came to the discussion on the fence about the need for a new hymnal. I haven't encouraged my church to purchase the "Faith We Sing" book because we were able to use the money saved from buying those to put up video projection instead. However, the discussion in subcommittee has turned me in favor of a new hymnal. Some key points that were raised:
- 96% of United Methodist Churches use the current hymnbook in worship. (While many churches are using video projection to some degree the hymnbook is still a vital resource for ministry.)
- The hymnal is a uniting resource for the United Methodist Church
- A new hymnal would represent a diversity of music but surely not be the only music resource for local churches.
- The hymnal is more than a music book, it is a worship resource as well.
Those are some of the arguments that won me over. I know, it didn't take much. I wish I could collect my thoughts better but I'm tired. The sub committee seems fairly diverse and many of my questions were asked by others and I have been satisfied by the responses I have received. The publishing house seems plenty aware of the needs for multi media and the likely hood that they will not sell as many of this hymnbook as they have with the last one.
Time for dinner, I wonder if Clint is up for some Texas BBQ?
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Oh ya, General Conference stuff.
I am observing the “Ordinal and Hymnal sub committee.” It should be a fairly painless group. The sub committee is about 20 people with about 5 or 6 observers. I did share a funny moment when I sat at a group that I thought was the Hymnal subcommitee (turns out it was another sub commitee) and a women sits down next to me and says “Hello Bruce Smith” and I look at her for a minitue and say “well hello Jenny!” So I have found one of our PNW related people. Jenny as many of you know, helped run the Indianola campaign a few years ago in our annual conference and is currently living in New York state.
I also met a man my age from the NW Texas Annual Conference. We sat next to each other and talked about sports and our families. I was impressed that he knew who Drew Bledsoe was. He is a big college football fan. We shared photos of our children and it was fun to connect with someone from Texas. He shared that he is an Asbury grad and I know that probably means we have some serious theological differences but frankly the primary thing for me right now was to connect with another person. We can disagree about theology later. It is good to be making some connections with people.
OK so now it is 12:53 and I am falling asleep at the computer. Western Delegation meets at 7:00 A.M. again and then its off to the usual plenary worship, committees etc, etc.
Other random notes about General Conference . . .
Our first committee meeting was excruciatingly long and tedious. It took over an hour to elect a chair, vice chair and secretary!!! The process was interesting in an observer sociological point of view. After electing two men as chair and vice chair three women were nominated for secretary. Ah, gender roles gotta love them! Can't wait until we start debating the hymnal and fun things like that.
The weather has cooled off. Its only 75 and muggy. Although ,many of the PNW folks are complaining. I realize that I must have really been a pain when I was a student and moaning about the weather. Its a wonder Kendra married me.
I have made plans to catch up with my buddy Wes who has just taken an associate position after spending the past several years in Cameroon as a missionary. I am planning to drive out to his church on Sunday and spend some time with him. I will have to skip a few things to do it but hey if a reserve delegate has to have some privlidges.
I had been getting frustrated last night and today with Bishops talking about how our differences need to be set aside so that we could do ministry. The unspoken implication seemed to be that diversity was not a value of the General Conference. I don't think this is what they meant. Yet so far the presentations of the Bishop's has seemed to be of a tone that we need magically set aside our differences and get along. I grew frustrated at their lack of naming the differences. I have some great friends in ministry with whom I disagree about many things. Those differences are valued and while sometimes they are difficult to work through in our friendships we do not hide our diversity of opinion or our beliefs. The bishops have seemed to want to hide everything under a rug.
Then we had the "Young People's Address." Apparently this was the first time that there has been such a thing and they did a remarkable job. They spoke of the difference between speaking over each other and talking with each other. The pointed to poverty as the greatest world wide challenge in front of us. They called for the church to be a place where young people belong. I was especially moved by a young man from Nebraska who said that "It is time to transcend the division." He spoke of his life experience as a high school liberal in a conservative area. Then of his experience as a person of faith in a liberal college. He called for us to follow the Wesley tradition of following religion and reason together. I remember him saying both liberal and conservative (or did he say "red and "blue"?) are right! Then Matt from the PNWAC closed the presentation. He spoke of a world that is desperate for Jesus. He encouraged us to interact with one another. He pointed out that it is not only the young who are the church of today and tomorrow, the delegates are also the church of tomorrow!
Three times I heard the young people name some of our divisions and say the word "gay." The word the Bishops have been so afraid to say. The young people named our divisions so NOW we can be the church. We can interact with each other in authenticity, whether we agree or not. It was a dramatic moment to have the youth and young adults lead in such a powerful way when the Bishops could not or would not.
Committee meetings this afternoon and evening. Yippee!
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Worship began at 6:00 with a wonderful presentation of music and dance. I chuckled some when even at General Conference the sound system was imperfect with the occasional feedback and on one song the song leader and the person running the video screen got out of sync. Just like our local churches! I was also a bit amused that while we will be voting on creating a new hymnal we don't use them at General Conference. There was a printed order of the service but everything was displayed on the four large screens around the auditorium. Why do we need that new hymnal?
Bishop Huie gave the sermon using the conference theme "A future with hope." I forgot to take notes during the sermon. I remember one example of hope becoming a marshmallow word, such as "I hope I can help" being a way to say "I would rather not." Instead we were encouraged to live into the hope of the risen Christ. A hope that is for something not yet seen but that can be realized.
The first business of the conference was primarily housekeeping. The bar for voting was set as the main floor of the auditorium. They tested the voting system. 90% of the delegate voted that they were present. Leaving 10% who apparently thought it would be funny to vote that they were not present. In bigger news John was voted as the most respected Apostle followed closely by John. Judas got 120 votes. Again, delegate humor.
So with the voting system in full operation it was time to vote for the rules of the conference. TWO HOURS. It took two hours to vote for the rules. There were amendments, questions and referrals. At least one time it took a youth delegate to notice that a whole section of the rules had been skipped. Thank God for YOUTH!
We also heard from the Commission of the General Conference. Apparently they put on this whole shindig. They have a petition to reduce the maximum number of delegates from 1,000 to 600. I am not a fan of this idea. Primarily I object to reducing the number of delegates as we are trying to become a world wide church. Small conferences like the PNW could be reduced to two or four voting delegates and it wasn't all that long ago that we had ten.
We were told that the attendance for worship this evening was about 6,500. I love that they announced that. It could create a game like guessing the attendance at Safeco Field. It seemed like about 4,000 of those 6,500 left immediately after worship.
Finally we witnessed a video and heard from a couple of speakers on the topic of diversity and sensitivity training. Delegates were encouraged to:
- Tell the truth about who we are
- Let us listen to each other
- Let us remember that we have not yet achieved the diversity we seek
- Let us demonstrate our respect
The video was well done and I especially the clips from "The Office."
So that's one day done. It is now 12:20 A.M. and wake up is 6:00 A.M. So I can get to the 7:o0 Western Jurisdiction delegation meeting. Yippee! I will have to write my post complaining about how we expect to care for ourselves with this sort of schedule another time.
6:00 Opening Worship
8:00 "Organization of the General Conference"
This first plenary session seems to be about testing the voting system, approving the rules, adoption of the calendar and exciting things such as that.
Presently we are waiting at the hotel for a shuttle to the convention center. I am hanging out with the young adults realizing that I am old. Sigh.
Hopefully we will get through registration soon.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
As the title suggests it is 87 and muggy. Considering the 40 something temperature and rain I just left in Portland that is quite a change. I walked up to my room and realized why I spent most of my time in seminary (Perkins School of Theology, SMU, Dallas) in Birkenstock's, shorts and T-Shirts. I didn't even pack my Birkys for General Conference! The great quandary of life in Texas is; do you dress for the outside temperature or the inside one? Why dress for a few minutes of outside hot and muggy when the air conditioner often seems to be set for 62 degrees?
The hotel room is nice, it even has a little kitchenette, not that I imagine that I will have the time to make use of it. Seems like the daily schedule from Thursday on is 7:00 A.M. until 11:00 P.M.
Feel free to put your questions in the comments and I will try to get to them. I'm going to go explore my surroundings.