Friday, May 20 – Heading Home Hopeful

GO therefore

When I left Tampa on May 6, 2012 at the conclusion of that year’s General Conference, I had a bad taste in my mouth and a sense of gloom in my soul.  The Conference had been costly – both in terms of the dollars spent, and in the divisiveness created across the denomination.

As General Conference 2016 came to an end on May 20 I was hopeful – and so, too, was the atmosphere among most of the delegates inside the convention center.

I have to admit that this hopeful feeling surprised me.

For four years I had felt, and countless people had told me, that General Conference 2016 would be no different than General Conference 2012 – costly and unproductive.

Countless hours had been spent over nearly four years to improve the delegate experience at this year’s Conference.  But when business sessions began in Portland we – the United Methodist denomination – did not put our best foot forward.

We began the session using an i-Pad at each table to get the attention of the presiding bishop, even though the rules in place when we left Tampa called for a placard to be used.

After delegates voted to allow the use of the i-Pads, the system didn’t always work and the delegates and presiding bishops had trouble using them.

At the times that a presiding bishop misspoke, some delegates pounced on the opportunity and questioned our Episcopal leaders’ knowledge of parliamentary procedure.  There was even a request from one delegate for a presiding bishop to step down – the first time that had happened in the history of The United Methodist Church.

Sadly, my worst fears were being realized: the atmosphere in the plenary sessions was contentious and social media was abuzz with talk of an imminent schism in the Church.

My mood lightened on Tuesday when the Council of Bishops was asked to meet that day and to return on Wednesday with a plan for moving forward.  The subsequently proposed plan was accepted by the body.  With it came the creation of a yet-to-be-named special commission that will examine “every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality.”

The decision did not please everyone but it seemed to accomplish three things: it tabled debate of human sexuality language in The Discipline – debate that has often been divisive; it offered the possibility of a special General Conference before 2020 to discuss such legislation; and it created time on the agenda to debate and decide other legislation.

We, again this year, spent more than $10 million on General Conference, and were unable to get to each of the proposed items on the legislative calendar – but I leave Portland hopeful.  And I am not alone.

In her morning sermon on the last day of Conference Bishop Elaine Stanovsky of the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area reminded all of us that “we will not leave divided because God is not finished with us yet!”

That’s great news, thankful news, hopeful news.

By Rick Wolcott, East Ohio Conference director of Communiations

May 12 – That’s Debate-able!

Rev. Dan Bryant

I spent many a Friday and a Saturday night at the Ice Arena during my four years at Bowling Green State University back in the ‘80s.

The Falcons hockey team was the defending National Champion my freshman year, making the Ice Arena (yeah, I know, real original name) the place to be.  Many of the team’s players I saw up close and personal went on to have good careers in the NHL.

The title of today’s post comes from a popular taunt Falcon fans shouted at opposing teams.  When an opponents’ penalty time had expired – and the player left the penalty box to return to the ice – announcer Tom Glick would declare to the crowd in his deep voice, “both teams are back at full strength.”  We fans replied by shouting, “that’s debate-able!”

2016 General Conference LogoThursday at General Conference here in Portland was a day of debate.   Delegates debated on the floor of the plenary session and in the legislative committee meeting rooms.  My debate was internal.  In my mind I debated the pros and cons – to this point – of GC 2016.

Pro – After four long years we could finally turn the page from GC 2012 and move forward.

Con – For three straight days in Portland we appear to have continually stubbed our toes.

The latest example of that came with the contention that was in the air during Thursday’s morning plenary session.  After much debate on Tuesday and Wednesday, delegates finally voted yesterday on Rule 44.  BTW, its name is as original as Ice Arena.  For the record, its name comes from the fact that it was the 44th proposed rule on a list of those eligible for adoption.  The first 43 rules were adopted on Tuesday.

Rule 44 was recommended, following GC 2012, by the Commission on General Conference as an alternative process to Robert’s Rules of Order for dealing with particularly complicated and contentious legislation – like human sexuality.

On the surface the debates over the past three days were focused on Rule 44, but the undercurrent of overall discord about other issues ran deep during the Rule 44 debate.

Delegates questioned decisions by presiding bishops, and they also spoke out against the new system that replaced waving colored cards to get the attention of the presiding bishop with an i-pad on each table that delegates now use to enter their requests to speak from the floor.

There have been other examples of us not putting our best foot forward in Portland.

The Tuesday session for first-time delegates was far short on the number of needed chairs for the group and there was no one there to lead the session.

Some of the legislative committee meeting rooms in which the Christian Conferencing sessions took place on Wednesday didn’t have a laptop that was needed for the video and the presentation that were shown to all groups.

When legislative committees began their work for the first time on Thursday, some did so in rooms that were not conducive for larger committees.  That made it hard for delegates to be able to communicate with one another on the important topics before them.

Part of my internal debate is questioning, because this is my second General Conference, whether I am paying more attention to things in 2016 than I did in 2012.  I also wasn’t present for the first five days of GC 2012, so it’s possible the same glitches occurred there that have negatively impacted perceptions of what has/hasn’t been accomplished to this point at GC 2016.

The words we say – and those we leave out – communicate a message.

The actions that we take – and those that we don’t – communicate a message.

My prayer is that when we leave Portland we do so as The UNITED Methodist Church.  There is still time for that to happen, but the wearly returns say that our denomination is anything but united.  Sadly, that’s one thing at this point in time that is not debate-able.

By Rick Wolcott, East Ohio Conference Director of Communications