As we begin Week 2 of General Conference, East Ohio Conference delegates share their thoughts/observations on an experience that stands out to them from Week 1 here in Portland:
“Well, for me the morning worship services stood out for me during the first week of the General Conference. Worshiping God in many languages and creative expressions is always a Pentecost experience for me.” – Rev. Armando Arellano
“During worship on Thursday morning the choir sang the hymn “Blessed be the Rock.” The only time I had ever heard this sung was during the 2000 General Conference. I was working at what was then The Oaks at Medina and we hosted a Swedish choir, Kefas, that was performing for the conference. Just as I made all of these connections in my mind the video screen identified this group as Kefas. A group I had spent a couple of days with 16 years ago was back on the General Conference platform and I was thrilled to hear them again.” – Brian Sheetz
“My observations concerning General Conference are the myriad of complex issues and processes delegates grapple with on any given day on a number of fronts. Incredible amounts of energy, patience, and focus are required on the part of each General Conference delegate, the presiding bishops, and the many others who provide support to this every-four-year, global gathering of United Methodists.
I am grateful for the prayers that have sustained us, the worship that feeds our souls, and the grace and kindness of the members of the East Ohio delegation for each other and to others. As we begin the second week of General Conference, I think about and appreciate our churches, people, and pastors back home who faithfully live out our mission. – Rev. Dr. Gary George
“In the first week, I feel the Lord opened opportunities for me to talk one-on-one with different people about the deep issues before the UMC. Some of these conversations were shared in tears, some were words of encouragement to me, and others continue to keep my mind thinking.” – Holly Grant
“What struck me as I walked through the Oregon Convention Center (after arriving in Portland on Saturday) was the palpable sense of deflation. People were obviously weary, but that is part of the expectation after three days of legislative committee work. But this was different. It was as though people had begun to lose heart.
I ran into a friend I had met in Tampa, and he said the word that is synonymous with the fears of many UMs this time of the quadrennium: schism. It is not only a possibility, but a real possibility. Not only are we not moving forward in legislation, we are actually moving further apart. And people are weary of it, perhaps even resigned that things will not get better.
Things often move to a more moderate place in plenary business session, so hope remains. But it feels like a fragile hope. Let us pray – that all delegates find renewed desire to hold the connection together and that the Holy Spirit moves as it will.” – Rev. Andy Call
“Amidst the many valleys of emotions that lead to hopelessness, I was blessed by the faithful witness of a young woman who was elected secretary of our Faith and Order Legislative Committee. Carlene is a law student scheduled to graduate May 14 from Law School and she loves the church enough to forego her long-sought-after ceremony and receive her degree in person.
As we concluded our legislative business on Saturday, she shared that at that moment the ceremony was taking place back home in Mississippi. One delegate went to her table and handed her a flower. She looked up and the entire committee sounded the graduation song and Carlene cried tears of joy that we were there with her walking in spirit with her. God showed up in a Pentecost moment as all various voices and opinions united in one language of love to this young woman who loves the Lord so much that God came first!
As you read about the struggles and, often-times, seemingly impossible way forward, may we find hope in our young people who don’t want us to give up!
Praise God, and I’m encouraged always.” – Rev. Dan Bryant
“General Conference is wonderful. Working together for Unity and Serving and Praising our Lord daily. Blessings to all and keep those prayers going.” – Kathy Palmer
“I attended the worship service sponsored by COSROW on Sunday morning. We were asked to turn and share with a neighbor how we had experienced God so far at this General Conference. The young pastor that I was speaking with said she experienced God in the individuals she had met and talked to. I shared how I experienced God in hearing and seeing the multitudes of people from around the world. In other words, in the body of the church we have known the Body of Christ. It is communal. It is corporate. It is real, and beautiful and so much larger than me.” – Rev. Karen Oehl
Friday afternoon in my Local Church Committee we came across three interesting petitions.
By Brian Sheetz, East Ohio delegate and Executive Director of the East Ohio United Methodist Foundation
The topic was how the annual conference should deal with the assets of a local church that had closed.
The petitions came from GCF&A, GBOD and UMRA. Oh, wait, I forget that you, my dear reader, have not been immersed in United Methodist jargon for the better part of the week. Make that General Council on Finance and Administration, General Board of Discipleship and United Methodist Rural Advocates. So these three groups each submitted petitions that were largely identical, each with a sentence or two of their own that tweaked an area of particular interest.
Challenging the Concepts of Open Minds and Open Hearts
By Martha E. Banks, Ph.D., Delegate, East Ohio Conference
I am so delighted to be part of a global church as a United Methodist. However, serving as a delegate to General Conference has opened my eyes to many ways in which our denomination leaves out people — even when they are physically inside the Open Door.
In preparation for the General Conference, delegates received the Advance Daily Christian Advocate, a 1000+ page document that included petitions to amend and update polity, reports from general commissions, and advertisements. That document was available electronically and in print in English, Kiswahili, Portuguese, and French. As the conference proceeds, legislative updates, conference proceedings, and other information are provided in Daily Christian Advocates (DCA). Both the Advance Daily Christian Advocate and the Daily Christian Advocates are provided in print and electronic formats.
However, the DCA is only available in English! How can that be? I can choose to search online and immediately obtain translations at no cost. What is the obstacle to making the electronic version of the DCA available in the recognized languages of the General Conference? Amendments to petitions are made available in hard copy and in English only. If the DCA and amendment text are only available in
English, how does that demonstrate the open minds and open hearts that make it possible for all delegates of the global United Methodist Church to work together to advance the Church?
As business proceeds, we receive repeated requests for speakers to slightly slow the pace of their speech, take pauses, and use microphones for the benefit of translators attempting to convey information in real time. English-speaking delegates were asked to use translation technology to hear the participation of speakers in other languages. The resistance to meeting these reasonable requests makes me wonder if we are really collaborating as Christ’s family or if we are functioning at a pre-Christian level of exclusion. How is it that, in 2016, we, the global United Methodist Church, still operate in ways that disenfranchise our own members — especially members of color?
Our worship appears to be inclusive on the surface. The devotion at the end of the first day of legislative committee meetings included a South African hymn. That seemed inclusive until I learned from one of my sisters that syllables had been transposed and that the chosen hymn was one children sing in Sunday school. The hymns in English, whether “traditional” or “contemporary” are spell-checked adult hymns. What message are we giving when we are only partially inclusive?
We have a model in Christ who taught us how to be inclusive. Let us remind ourselves of His guidance and pray for discernment of how to be full Christian sisters and brothers. The doors are open. Can the hearts and minds be far behind?
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!”
Thursday 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