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Some Insights and Experiences from Delegates and Representatives from Wisconsin

May 5, 2012

Steve Zekoff, Clergy Delegate–Now that the General Conference is into plenary sessions taking action on the reports, it has become very publicly evident again that there are differences in understandings of what it means to be a faithful follower of Christ. The various perspectives that delegates bring from across the Jurisdictional (U.S.) and Central (international) Annual Conferences result in struggles coming to common ground on some issues. It is a blessing to be enriched by what all bring to the experience, yet we need to also recognize that having such wide diversity within the General Conference means that we need to work at being accepting of each other and what we believe. Those differences will be manifesting themselves over the rest of this week as we decide what the future structure of our denomination will look like, adopt a denominational budget, and discuss again Disciplinary language related to sexuality.

Dan Dick, 1st Clergy Delegate–As we move into the fourth quarter of this year’s General Conference, a prevailing sense exists that we haven’t done or changed much. After long deliberation, we adopted Plan UMC, a third alternative plan offered in response to that of the Interim Operations Team. Some feel this is evidence of an unwillingness to change. But rather than blaming an unwillingness to change, I believe that none of the plans provided clear outcomes. It was very difficult to look at any individual plan and see how it offered something superior to what we already have. Now we are looking to restructure, then figure out how to make it work effectively. I believe it will be critically important for the new General Council for Strategy & Oversight to define clear priorities and objectives that will allow us to develop appropriate systems and processes to be more effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Amanda Stein, 2nd Clergy Delegate–I’m loving reconnecting with United Methodist friends–friends that are family to me. I’m also appreciating making new connections with members of the Methodist family of Sierra Leone, Columbia, Congo, and the Dominican Republic. It’s a great way to brush up on my Spanish & French!

Sam Royappa, Jurisdictional Delegate and GC Volunteer–I see and praise God for the ocean of gifts to His Church called The UMC–both local and global people sharing and conversing together inside and outside the bar. I am amazed to see hundreds of staff working together both manually and technologically. I also see political values and Kingdom values at their peaks as members of our global faith community try to claim their identity, whether they are called to be delegates or disciples. As delegates, they are law makers, and as disciples of Christ, they are called to experience and express grace. I do appreciate one thing (in the midst of a tension between secular and sacred), that every conversation is all about the “Church” that Christ founded with his promise: “I will build my Church” Thanks be to God for new friends! God is good all the time.

Steve Polster, 1st Clergy Reserve–A great highlight at this General Conference was the consecration of Bill and Gwen Gibson from Wisconsin as missionaries this past Sunday, along with several others deployed in mission and ministry worldwide.As exciting and inspiring as it is to witness and experience the vital mission and ministry of United Methodism from around the world, the General Conference also has moments of great disappointment and frustration. The Wednesday morning Plenary was one of those times for me. When given the opportunity to change our Social Principals, allowing us to acknowledge our differences of thought and interpretation of Scripture, and to affirm our love and care for all people, the General Conference sadly said no. I pray for the day when we as United Methodists will not only acknowledge that we have differences and can remain connected in Christ, but become as inclusive and welcoming of all people, regardless of sexual orientation, as I believe God calls us to be. Come Holy Spirit. Come.

 Judy Vasby, 1st Lay Reserve–I was impressed with the importance of the legislative sessions in which small groups (of about 80 members each) processed all the petitions that came to General Conference. Each legislative group read through their assigned petitions on one general topic, such as church and society, discipleship, faith and order, global ministries. They accepted them as written, or changed them by amendment, or voted not to approve. Petitions that had fewer than ten “no” votes went on to the Consent Agenda. But if they were close votes or had financial implications, they were assigned to the “calendar” for the entire body to discuss and vote on. The Consent Agenda was brought before the Conference in large chunks to approve all at once. If approved, all of the petitions in the group became “law.” There was a process for lifting out individual petitions for further discussion, but few were brought up for further consideration. Therefore, a majority of the decisions for the Conference were made by the legislative committees–small groups, large influence.

Gail Burgess, Hospitality Volunteer–Florida has taken the task of hosting this event very seriously and they are very organized. The other night I worked with folks who traveled by bus from Citrus County to serve as greeters. Many folks are present every day to train and oversee all the volunteers. A special map highlighting the area hotels, restaurants, pharmacies, grocery stores, and more was printed just for this event. First Aid, including an onsite paramedic, and the Lost and Found booth have been very busy. The really cool thing for me, though, is how appreciative everyone is of all that is being done. My “job” is simply to greet folks and answer questions, so I am pretty amazed by all the people who have stopped to say “Thank you for all that you are doing”. Even when we don’t speak the same language, we are able to communicate with a smile and a wave.

Jen Southworth, Jurisdictional Delegate and MFSA Intern/Legislative Monitor in the Ministry and Higher Education Section–This is my first General Conference and I’ve spent more time frustrated, confused, and tired than hopeful, joyful, or excited. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t felt those positive emotions – they’re what keep me going through 18+ hour days, sitting in a conference room struggling to wade through Robert’s Rules, complicated amendments, and obvious dissention concerning where the Church might be moving. There’s a steep learning curve here, but it doesn’t take much to recognize the passion and love for God, Jesus, the UMC, each other, justice, peace, the Gospel, and so on, even when we can’t agree how that passion plays out in legislation. Passion and excitement fill the air here, even in the seemingly dull moments when the delegates are testing their voting remotes, practicing by choosing their favorite disciples (Peter won, by the way). Everyone here knows that it isn’t often that the Church changes anything, so to be here and know that you’ll either be a part of it, or at least a witness to it, is invigorating. Connectionalism is physically visible at General Conference. Meetings, reunions, dinners, handshakes, hugs, songs. Being relatively young and relatively new to the Methodist world, I have fewer reunion moments, but seemingly exponential new friendships and connections, especially with inspiring people my own age. So, despite the confusion, exhaustion and the frustrating and inexplicable decisions being made as a full Conference, so far the glimpses of hope and excitement have been weightier than the more frequent moments of darkness. I’m interested to see how this event of judicial connectionalism resolves itself in love and grace, or at least without destroying itself.

  originally published in the WIUMC General Conference Email, May 3, 2012

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