It was my intention to write an “end of conference” reaction on the day after conference ended. And then I thought well, perhaps a 48-hours later reflection. But, unfortunately, I hit the ground running and haven’t really stopped since leaving Tampa on Saturday morning. So, perhaps after all this time, I have completely sorted out my thoughts and can offer insightful analysis of all we did. (I hope by now all readers can recognize when I speak tongue-in-cheek).
Friday at General Conference was certainly a wild ride. There was a level of frustration among delegates and visitors that was palpable. The strange part was that the frustration seemed to be a generalized sensation more than something caused by specific decisions or actions. It just seemed to feed on itself. And, as the day went on, the frustration grew. We were running out of time. Everything seemed to be 60/40 – could we really be so divided on everything? Finally, just before lunch we voted on the Commission on General Conference – well, at least those that the Council of Bishops had managed to figure out. (Later in the day they added the remainder of persons from the Central Conferences). I was very disappointed to lose some truly dedicated delegates from this group due to the shift away from the northeastern, north central and western jurisdictions. By chance, we had three people returning from the North Central Jurisdiction and only 2 slots. How the choice was made I don’t know, but I was disappointed to lose a gifted delegate and good friend from the Commission.
During the morning, I was asked by a member of the current executive committee if I would agree to be nominated for chair of the Commission. I had suspected that I would be considered for leadership, but was deeply honored (and a bit overwhelmed) that I was elected as chair. As this nomination came from people that I have a lot of respect for, their confidence in me is extremely affirming.
The afternoon began slowly and it was beginning to dawn on me that we were going to be leaving an awful lot of work unfinished. This includes most of what my legislative committee had done. I was starting to understand the way those on the General Administration legislative committee had felt after working on restructuring for 4 days, and then having nothing to bring forth. And then the 4 pm bombshell – the Judicial Council had found the legislation that we had passed on restructuring was unconstitutional and “unsalvageable.” The experience of being in that room at that moment is something that I won’t soon forget. There was a shocked silence and then a shocked rumbling. All were shocked – those who were gravely disappointed and those who had a sense of relief – all questioned what to do and what would happen next. The plan had been for conference to adjourn by 5 pm (I know this from serving on the Commission). Many people were leaving. Some had to drive long distances, some had important Saturday commitments.
Immediately a 10 minute recess was called for delegations to talk together. Power circles were formed. Looking around, I wondered which power circle could produce the answer we needed. But more importantly, was the sense I had that the Holy Spirit had moved through our clunky, awkward, very human process and stopped us from doing something that we shouldn’t do. Sometimes “no” is a very strong word, and it was my feeling that we had heard a resounding, “NO!” We had a very long dinner break – much longer than I felt was necessary, but we came back with a sense of resolution and were curious to see what would happen next.
Perhaps my sense that we were finally going to do the RIGHT thing, made the proposal that was brought to the floor more difficult to swallow. Refer the plan to the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table so that they could fix the “unconstitutional” parts. (Fix the unsalvageable?) This really did not sit well with the delegates. Perhaps all was made worse by the inclusion of the “possibility” of an additional session of General Conference at a ridiculous cost. Whatever the reasons, the conference was having nothing of it, and eventually agreed to table the proposal to work on some legislation that would make the sizes of the boards and agencies smaller (proposals that had come from the agencies themselves). These proposals did not include the increase in delegate representation from the Central Conferences. But even this may be one of the areas that needs to be perfected. How do we make this truly representative of the membership that we have? Our past has not included the idea of proportionality. Is this what our future should look like? Or should we be concentrating on areas where our growth is stagnated? Is proportional representation truly the way forward? Is squeezing the areas that are struggling and taking away the representation that they have really the best thing to do? I think again of the impact that this had on the Commission – and the mix of fate that kept me from being in this same situation.
So, we did what we could, left much work undone, and decisively declared that we did not want to lift the legislation from the table and refer it. And we left at the end after a brief worship service, still dazed.
Even with Joe’s help, it took far longer to pack up our stuff (partly because he was convinced that they weighed WAY too much, but I am pleased to say that our checked bags came in at 47 pounds each). I was glad that we had a noon flight. The night was still short, but we didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn.
I truly believe the prayers that were offered for me for strength allowed me to make it through two weeks of conference feeling really good. Even with so little sleep, I had energy and never had a headache. I made up for it all on the trip home, however – my head hurt the whole way home and I felt exhausted. It is hard not to think that my physical expressions were related to my spiritual ones. The affirmation that I had felt while there, the sense of God being present, the kinship with so many who love the church and labor so hard in the vineyards gave way to the despair that even we, present with the Holy Spirit, cannot agree, or even treat each other with love. We cannot through our human processes reach the Divine.
I still love the UMC. As one tweet said during the conference, “When I consider leaving the UMC, I realize all my reasons for leaving are completely United Methodist.” General Conference was a wild ride. And, I do wish I could say I have sorted it all out, but I haven’t. I do know, however, that although we, in our humanness, can never reach high enough that we will touch God, the triumph of the incarnation is that God reached TO US and continues to search for us. And, as we finally affirmed in our legislation, “Nothing Can Separate Us From the Love of God.”
Thank you for following along with all of us as we experienced the General Conference. Your love and support in all ways uplifted me. So, unless I have a sudden revelation (not impossible!) or think of something I have neglected to say, you can look forward to more from Jurisdictional Conference in July!