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First Hand Experiences: Wesley White

February 9, 2012

This coming General Conference will be my 7th in a variety of roles – interested person, press, alternate or elected delegate. Here are three bone-deep remembrances:

1. The amount of preparation needed.

Receiving action items to be voted on means reviewing documentation a foot thick. How does one balance investment of time for the future against always pressing current schedules?

Becoming acquainted with special reports (maybe a record this time) means thinking in meta- and future terms that is more than likes and dislikes. How to reflect on how one part of a report affects another part of another report and is this the direction to go?

Focusing on particular legislation in the area I had specific responsibility for meant evaluating hundreds of proposed changes in light of the current Discipline and Book of Resolutions and realities in people’s lives. How can one effectively cross-reference and evaluate needed change?

2. The depth of disconnect between the preaching/worship experiences and the legislative debate and voting.

I don’t remember missing a worship service – the music, enlivening; the liturgy, thoughtful; the preaching, excellent. Worship is the vision of the church for years to come and stands in contrast with the nitty-gritty work of getting a majority vote in a system open to manipulation through dis-information and even bribery.

Even though I should know better by now, I still expect that worship and scripture will have a carry-over into our legislative work. On the occasions when such is attempted by someone, they are often quickly reminded by silence and a quick return to debate points how far we have compartmentalized our piety from our mercy.

For a people named Methodist our methods can become chaotic, adding to the suspicion of anyone in an elected position, just like the presidential politics currently going on in the nation. [Note: General Conference is held the same year as US Presidential Elections and this usually adds another wrinkle or two as church takes place in a larger context of world.]

3. How tired the body and mind is after 10+ intensely physical and spiritually testing days.

Helping shape hope into language for years to come takes all one has in the best of circumstances. Wrestling with theological differences between Arminian and Calvinistic Methodists and the realities of different parts of the country and world (cultures also desire their due) complicates processes as one moves from individual preparation to communal decision making.

There is never enough per diem to cover actual costs. This results in attempts to arrange less expensive lodging further from the activities, adding a time burden, and to put off a next meal or catch more fast food than usual. These realistic limits affect our best interactions.

General Conference never only takes place between the setting of the legislative bar and adjournment. Years-long work in public and private settings seeks to advantage one interest group or another. Even the electing of procedural officers for legislative sessions has come to be a scripted event with pre-selected candidates and nomination-closing motions coming quickly. It takes energy to engage power plays in as healthy a manner as possible. General Conference is local congregational politics writ large as people go to great lengths to protect the God significant to them.

Words do make a difference and General Conference has a lot of words – just try reading the verbatim daily reports. For 40 years I’ve joined others trying to remove discriminatory language regarding gay and lesbian Christians from the Book of Discipline and preventing additional legislation against bisexual, transgender, and intersex Christians. You can see one way our ideals are split apart from very compromised laws by going to

Yet, with all the difficulties of General Conference, it is an every four-year check on how we are doing with a Living God inviting us into a better future than following our desire for privilege, security and the comfort of the usual. I appreciate that I am but one among many and value the opportunities I have had to witness to the expansive and expanding Love whose name we know as God and Spirit and Jesus and you and me. I hope to see more from Wisconsin in Tampa as, together, we discern how to move ahead, together, trusting not my or our will be done, but that which benefits all of creation, together.

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