The View of General Conference from a Marshal’s Perspective

The following post was written by Joe Kenaston:20160513_162056

I like to think of my role as the official greeter of the General Conference!  Imagine a Walmart greeter.  And since I enjoy talking to people, it is a perfect fit!  Most folks I encounter are pleasant, courteous, and appreciative of our help. Marshals help people find where they are going, problem solve, and contact help if it is serious (i.e. – yesterday someone passed out in a meeting and the paramedics had to be called).  We work 6 to 8 hour shifts sometimes starting as early as 6 or 7am (good thing I am from the East Coast) and other times the afternoon or later shift.  Because we are from all over the world we reflect the make-up of the General Conference and it certainly adds a richness to our conversations and experiences.

In addition to being a welcoming presence, I also have to check credentials to ensure the integrity of the process.  Voting delegates have access to inside the bar (where the official conversation and voting taking place) and the others must listen from the visitors’ gallery.  Perhaps a Sam’s Club greeter is more apt than the one who just helps you find a cart.  If the electronic system is not being used, we also help the pages with collecting and counting the votes in sub-committees.

During opening worship, I was at the entrance of Bishops’ family section and enjoyed greeting everyone.  It was delightful catching up with Jane and Clif Ives and Eleanor and Ernest Lyght.  They were the WV bishops from 1992-2004 (Clif) and 2004-2011 (Ernest).  I had one visitor wander into the family section and I had to redirect him to a visitor section.  He laughed and declined the invitation to sit in the spouses’ area as long as he was willing to marry a bishop!

One of the difficult parts of being a marshal is having to be quiet when the discussions, debates, and votes are going on.  I want to help clear up confusion caused by misunderstanding, language, and cultural barriers which are all intensified by a parliamentary process that is common in the English speaking world, but less so elsewhere. (But alas, the marshal’s role does extend that far).  It is also disconcerting to see how the rules of debate can be used to stifle conversation and manipulate the process to a particular political end (I am not referring to chairpersons, but there are many who have that skill).  It was also sad to see the conference choose to be bound by the rules of debate rather than embrace the concept of Christian conversation which was the motivation of Rule 44. (See Judi’s blog for a reflection).

On a joy-filled note, I had a wonderful reunion with the 1976 Northeastern Jurisdictional youth delegates from WV.  Tom Bickerton, bishop of W. PA, Chuck Smith, social worker in Portland, and I have been friends since before we could drive a car.  It has been several decades since the three of us were last together.  It was great to be in the same place!  A joyful picture of the blessed connection!

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