General Conference - Day 9
I am tired, friends, as is the entire delegation. We are doing well—working hard, praying harder, and keeping ourselves open to epiphanies and chuckles along the way. But we are tired. I sense that the entire General Conference is tired. Pray for us.
At our delegation’s prayer gathering this morning, Sharon Schwab led us through a thought-provoking meditation on the danger of a couple of ontological extremes: The condition of being so heavenly-minded that we are of no earthly good on the one end of the spectrum; and, on the other end of the spectrum, the condition of being so earthly-minded that we are of no heavenly good. In other words, Sharon challenged us to develop a discipleship that simultaneously cultivates incarnational ministry (a perpetual devotion to the “here and now”) and eschatological sensibilities (a perpetual awareness of the “there and then.”)
Sharon’s meditation was the perfect preparation for a long day of legislation, where all of us needed to remember the “there and then” in the midst of an often-grueling “here and now.”
Those who hold the opinion that the General Conference is afraid of change are…well...for lack of a better word…wrong. Today, by a vote of 567 to 384, we tentatively (pending a review of its constitutionality) approved an amended version of what has been called “Plan UMC.” This is a plan for structural change that will lead to both a reconfiguration and downsizing of our denomination’s general boards and agencies.
The plan calls for the creation of a General Council for Strategy and Oversight that will oversee the work of the denomination’s four programming bodies — the Board of Discipleship, the Board of Church and Society, the Board of Global Ministries, and the Board of Higher Education and Ministry. These boards will be accountable to a 34-member General Council (which will be led by an executive general secretary and will replace the existing Connectional Table).
I am well aware of the fact that, for many in our local churches, the distance between the pew and the general church seems far too great for any of this to have any practical import for the average United Methodist. However, our general boards and agencies are a vitally important segment of our connection. They do the work and ministry that our local church either CANNOT do or WILL NOT do. Today’s action means that a new and challenging season is on the horizon for those faithful souls who serve in that portion of our church.
As you might imagine, this decision is not without controversy and questions. Is it the right change? Is there an agenda behind the plan that has yet to be revealed? Does it give too much power to too few people (or the wrong people)? Will it help the church to mobilize itself for making disciples for Jesus Christ, or is it simply a reshuffling of the administrative deck? Will the new structure care well for our global church, and will our sisters and brothers around the world have sufficient voice in the new configuration?
Much remains to be seen, I think. All I know is that, tonight, I am praying that whatever is not right about the plan finds correction in the days ahead, and that whatever is right about the plan finds its fullest expression.
You would have been very proud of Western Pennsylvania's Tina Whitehead today. During passionate conversations in plenary about Israel and Palestine, Tina, who is a missionary to Israel and Palestine, spoke eloquently and movingly about her experiences in that land and the urgency of pursuing a just peace (peace with accountability and consequences for wrongdoing).
While the General Conference today chose not to require our denomination’s boards and agencies to divest of holdings in companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, it did call our boards and agencies to “explore serious peacemaking strategies in Israel and Palestine including positive economic and financial investment in Palestine.”
One thing is for certain: people around here are as passionate about the Israel/Palestine conversation as they are about issues of human sexuality.
Speaking of which, petitions concerning human sexuality will be before us tomorrow. And Bishop Bickerton will be in sitting in the presiding chair for at least a portion of that debate. I speak from my heart when I say that there is no one I would rather have in the chair during those moments than our bishop. He will preside fairly, with wisdom and grace. Pray for him as he heads into this challenging role.
You may be interested in another little action from today. What has been called “Lay Speaking Ministries” in our Book of Discipline will henceforth be called “Lay Servant Ministries.” The title of “Lay Speaker” will still apply to one type of Lay Servant. But the general description of the training and equipping of our laity will now be “Lay Servant Ministries.”
It is a pretty small linguistic change, but one that serves the purpose of placing the ministry of the laity in the theological context of Christ-like servanthood. (This has always been true in spirit, but now finds expression in our language). Also, the language of Lay Servant Ministries broadens the category in such a way that it can describe and include, not just lay speaking, but various forms of important ministry.
Personally, I thought this would be a quick vote. Twenty-two minutes later, I suddenly remembered that nothing happens quickly around here!
Grace and peace to all of you.
By: Eric Park On 5/2/2012
Topics: General Conference 2012