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GC behind the scenes

December 1, 2011
General Conference requires multiple staff to make it happen. A few of  them serve on a permanent relationship throughout each quadrennium (the  four year cycle leading up to each GC). Most have other roles and  responsibilities in our denomination, but for the 2 weeks of General Conference  dedicate their service to making it run smoothly.  I’ve had the opportunity  to serve in 3 of the major General Conference offices, and will provide a summary of what the various staffing areas are.
The Business Manager of the General Conference is responsible for logistics  and facilities.  This includes booking the meeting facility and housing  rooms, arranging for delegate travel, and interfacing with local civic and law  enforcement officials.  When visiting dignitaries, such as a head of  state or their spouse, address GC, the Business Manager works closely with the  US Secret Service to provide necessary security. The Business Manager is  responsible for having translators arranged for committee meetings, plenary  sessions, and worship experiences.  The General Board of Global  Ministries provides lead staffing for those services, augmented by  contracted interpreters and volunteers.   When last minute scheduling  changes require additional meeting space, the Business Manager’s office makes  the arrangements. Volunteer marshals and pages provide those important  support functions for delegates, with their head reporting to the Business  Manager for daily assignments. A plenary production team pulled together by  United Methodist Communications, involving both their staff and annual  conference communications staff members, reports to the Business Manager.
The Business Manager works closely with the Commission on the General  Conference, which has Disciplinary responsibility for the GC program and  arrangements. The Business Manager is a permanent employee of the General  Council on Finance and Administration, Nashville, and functions at GC with a  small office staff of GCFA employees supplemented by volunteer members of the  Commission.
The Secretary of the General Conference is responsible for issuing  credentials to delegates, organizing the legislative committees, and  for maintaining the official agenda and records of the proceedings of the  GC.  The Secretary publishes the proposed revisions to The  Discipline and The Book of Resolutions  prior to GC in The Advanced Daily Christian Advocate. The GC is the only meeting of  our denomination where a verbatim recording of the plenary sessions is  taken, and the transcript printed in The Daily Christian Advocate, the  official proceedings of the GC.  During GC, the Secretary’s office works  with the agenda committee and the committee responsible to designate the  presiding bishops as those important decisions are made. Following GC, the  Secretary is responsible to see that the revisions in the Discipline  and Resolutions are published.
The Secretary serves part-time throughout the quadrennium, with an election  held at each GC.  The current Secretary is a full-time pastor of a  Central Pennsylvania Conference congregation. Assisting the Secretary is a  Petitions Secretary, also a part-time position, currently filled by a Kentucky  Conference pastor.  The Petitions Secretary works closely with the United  Methodist Publishing House to arrange for publication of materials.  At GC,  the Secretary has a staff of volunteers who assist him with the multiple  responsibilities of the office, including some who are members of the Commission  on the General Conference. A vendor who specializes in electronic voting  provides that service, and is supervised by staff from the Secretary’s  office.
Official publications for GC are provided through the services of the  United Methodist Publishing House. They provide the lead staff at GC for  those efforts, with the staff members for those two weeks including  communicators from United Methodist Communications and multiple annual  conferences, selected by the Editor of the Daily Christian Advocate.   Though a UMPH staff member, the Editor reports to the Conference Secretary for  all GC-related publications.
Press relations at General Conference are managed by United Methodist  Communications, which oversees the press room, issues press credentials, and  produces news briefings about emerging issues at the GC.
The work of the Business Manager and Secretary are both supported at GC by  a volunteer local arrangements committee which provide important personnel for a  variety of short and longer assignments on-site during the two week duration of  the GC.  As delegates arrive, most meet those local volunteers as they  register. The most visible daily hospitality that the local  committee  provides are the cookies for breaks baked by volunteer UMW members from across  the hosting episcopal area.  The multiple other hospitality  functions which the local hosts provide are crucial elements of the  staffing services provided.
The Commission each year selects a worship leader for GC who is responsible  for developing the multiple worship services, as well as recruiting and  scheduling guest choirs from local churches across the denomination. That  person works part-time throughout the quadrennium making those plans and  arrangements.
The Treasurer of the General Conference is the General Secretary of the  General Council on Finance and Administration, Nashville. GCFA provides a  significant staff presence at GC, as they are responsible for issuing per diem  checks to delegates, paying for other GC-related expenses, providing  medical insurance coverage for delegates from outside of the U.S., and tracking  revisions to the proposed denominational budget for the upcoming  quadrennium.
There were also will be present a small number of staff members from each  of the other General Church agencies, responsible for tracking legislation  in which their agency has interest.  Though they answer questions in  legislative committees when requested, those staff do not have responsibility  for GC operations.  Official monitors will be present representing the  General Commision on the Status and Role of Women, and the General Commission on  Religion and Race.
The members of the Council of Bishops, the Judicial Council, the  Connectional Table, and GCFA are all present throughout the General Conference,  and meet on-call to address referrals from the GC plenary session.
I’ve had the opportunity to work in the offices of the Business Manager,  Secretary and GCFA (twice) over the last four General Conferences.  It will  be an honor to serve this time as one of the voting clergy delegates from Wisconsin and experience GC in Tampa from a different perspective.
Steve Zekoff
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2 Comments
  1. Carrie Kreps Wegenast permalink

    I never thought about how big an event General Conference is in terms of planning. We are talking thousands of people (housing, food, meeting space), the necessity of Secret Service for some of the guests, the foreign delegates who need visas and the intention to keep the meeting on task and fair. I’m thankful for all the people who give the time to make the two weeks happen.

  2. I have to echo Carrie here. I haven’t been to General Conference, but I’ve learned a lot about the event in the last year and a half. I’ve tried to imagine how very large it is, but this article has been eye opening! The logistics described here in preparation for those two weeks is beyond what I could have imagined. Details like this make me even more excited for April, but then again, I’m somewhat of a logisitics nerd. Thanks for sharing, Steve!

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