May 20 / Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I often tell churches and clergy that what we do not know is as important as what we do know. So it is that some things truly, truly still surprise me.  Like the amount of time we spent talking about whether we should add language to the Book of Discipline encouraging “supplemental” ministries for women or men, outside UMM and UMW.  We had a long debate about whether there was need to add words to the Discipline about what kind of ministries a church can create.  In addition, I was astounded that anyone would look to the Book of Discipline for guidance on that question.

We just come from different places, different contexts.  More deeply, we read the Bible differently and have different hopes for the future of the church in the world and how it will look.  There are voices in different parts of the church who are saying today that we have passed the point of no return with each other, that to pretend to go forward seeking unity is a farce.  These voices, which generally sit on the ends of the spectrum, say it’s time to split and move on down the road. We’ve talked enough, they say.  There’s nothing more to talk about.

All I can say is that I don’t agree.  We haven’t talked enough.  We’ve talked about each other, and sometimes at each other, but most of us haven’t often talked with each other (with some notable exceptions).  And we sure haven’t listened to each other.  Not really, not on the global level. We’ve heard the parts of printed caucus statements or Facebook posts that land on top of our fears and opinions.  We’ve heard debate in speeches for and against.  But we have not heard each other’s full stories and engaged those stories in trust.  This conference offered possibilities for such listening, and I am very grateful.  I’m also committed, as I serve on the commission that will plan the next General Conference, to make and encourage more such spaces.  I read a suggestion today that we even try to hold those conversations via social media in between conference sessions, and I hope we can take steps to talk and listen at the local level, too.

What we do not know is as important as what we do know.

This morning’s sermon by Bishop Elaine Stanovsky came, in my opinion, right on time.  She reminded us of Bishop Swanson’s call for us to lie prostrate on the ground in humility and prayer. She led us to stand and bow at the waist before God with the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  The bishop said she carries a constant awareness of the capacity of the church to choose death over life, to convince ourselves that death is life.  She noted that within our church, even with that knowledge, what looks like life to some has the stench of death to others.  

We may well end up at a dead end as a denomination, once the bishops have moved us through their process.  But two things are true about that, in my opinion.  One, there is a great variety of ways that dead end could look.  Some would have us split down the middle (and we don’t even agree on where and on what basis that line would be drawn), while others would have us hang together in the middle and let the ends go if they feel so led.  And two, if we do not pursue the task of hard conversation, under the spiritual and temporal leadership of our bishops, we will not have given all we could to this monumental work.  If we have to walk away from each other after that work, then so be it.

It would be a stretch to say that hope is the only thing in my heart.  But I do hope in the ministries around the world that we have accomplished as a denomination, including the remarkable progress we’ve made on eliminating deaths from malaria (that’s just one example).  I hope in those ministries as a practice that unites us and helps us grow beyond ourselves.  I hope in the lives of local congregations where people of diverse opinions and perspectives and experiences love one another deeply and decided a long time ago to stay together in Christian community. And I hope in the power of our God to bring life from death and to transform us from division into love.  We cannot imagine that happening to us; I can say that many days I wouldn’t want to vote for that.  But what is our alternative, truly, if we seek to follow Christ and live as his disciples?  What else do we read about in the scripture (Paul especially) but questions of practice and principle?  The early church fought and fought about these things, wrestling and wrangling.  Yet here we are today, their descendants. And the word of God says to us:  “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

The eternal God—over all and through all and in all.  Bigger than we are.  Better than we are.  Able to unite us when we don’t know how that’s possible.  This has to be our hope.  In my humble opinion, as a sinner loved and redeemed by Jesus Christ.

Point of Order

The complexity of this body as it tries to make hard decisions is too great to grasp completely. Translation sometimes doesn’t work due to errors in the booth, problems with the hardware, or a main speaker talking too quickly.  When we as English speakers have had to listen to translation, it has been a jerky, often frustrating and tiring experience.  When I think of the number of times speakers either get carried away or are themselves confused or unclear about what they’re saying—well, it’s a miracle anything makes its way through.  And big kudos to the translators, who are doing a terrific, terrifically difficult job.

Then there are Roberts’ Rules.  People want to do the right thing, but at least half the room (probably more) don’t know anything about it.  Nothing, never learned it, except maybe something gleaned from a badly-run church meeting.  That means some people are too intimidated by the process to try to make their voices heard, and others say the wrong thing and are therefore sent to the back of the line.  The presiding bishops have two bishops behind them as parliamentary advisers, and sometimes even then they too get confused.  Then there are the rules of the General Conference, which occasionally are different from Roberts’ Rules.  I have lost count of the number of times we’ve gotten wrapped around the axle with this process, and the amount of time spent on it without getting anywhere.  And folks still vote against different decision-making processes.  They have come to ask me to help the Commission on GC “trim down” the time allotted to worship and celebration of ministry as we approach GC 2020, so we have time to get our work done.

One young adult said at the end of the day that there is nearly no trust left in the room.  That’s why we keep running ourselves into the ditch.  “Who could bring a proposal to this group without being seen as suspicious?”  What path could come before us without being seen as a ploy to catch one “side” or the other in a trap?  It is deeply disturbing to consider that there might, in this moment and place, be no answer to this question that would pass with a majority vote of the body.

What did pass yesterday, by about 24 votes (if I remember correctly), was the plan the Council of Bishops brought before the conference, in response to our request the day prior.  Their response, “An Offering for a Way Forward,” is available here:

http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties/general-conference/2016/documents/council-bishops-statement-offering-way-forward-may-18-gc2016.pdf  

It first called the conference into a time of conversation around our tables, to share our stories and journey around the issue of human sexuality.  That was some of the most vulnerable, authentic time we’ve shared so far at this level.  They asked that the body defer action on the petitions before us now that deal with human sexuality.  The bishops then would establish a diverse commission to discuss every disciplinary paragraph regarding this issue and would seek to avoid church trials during that period.  They further proposed a called session of the General Conference, which could be called in 2018, 2019, or in the days preceding the regularly-scheduled 2020 General Conference.  This plan did pass the body, but rumors continue to circulate that action will come to the floor to have us vote on the current pending petitions in any case.  Time will tell.

An event that shocked the house in the afternoon was the request of a delegate that Bishop McAlilly remove himself from the presider’s chair.  Another delegate had already accused him of signaling with his fingers how people should vote (Yes-1 or No-2; I certainly saw no such thing).  The one requesting his removal asserted that his leadership had been flawed and that he had “single-handedly” changed the course of the conference’s decision-making.  This followed one of our worst periods of parliamentary confusion, and many of us were frustrated, in different directions. But many in the house were also appalled that one of us would show such a direct lack of respect for our episcopal leadership.  Some of the delegates at six of the tables in front of mine, from various African annual conferences, were absolutely furious.  One delegate from Liberia swept through the tables, nearly shouting in English, “If they take him out and seat another bishop, the Africans clear the hall!”  It felt like total breakdown.  We need strong leadership in the chair for whatever process we follow, and that is the bishops’ responsibility.  But that moment just went against everything I and many others learned from our mamas and daddies about showing respect.  

At the close of the day, we heard a Cheyenne song of lament, dedicated to those who died in the Sand Creek Massacre on November 29, 1864.  On that day, the US Cavalry attacked Arapaho and Cheyenne people, 2/3 to 3/4 of whom were women, children and the elderly, people who were in that place having been promised safety.  Methodists played a central in that violent, atrocious injustice, and the church refused for many years to offer any apology.  

The author of the report encouraged us to recognize that ”evil acts are not confined to the wicked.”  At the end of the presentation, William Walks Along spoke, beginning with the words, “If what I say divides us, it does not come from the Eternal Creator.  It if unites us, it is of the Creator.” He proceeded to express enormous, gracious desire for justice and reconciliation—forgiveness on behalf of Native peoples, prayers for peace for all our families.  I don’t have the words to communicate the calm, prophetic power of love I heard in his speech and saw in his face.  I was balm and hope for my soul, broken and exhausted after a long day.  I encourage you to look up the video of both the author of the historical report and Brother Walks Along.

We continue today, so very tired, but daring to hope that something good might yet come out of Portland, by God’s grace and with God’s help.

Prayer Beads and Sheep

By the time we got up and going this morning, the internet was abuzz with talk of some sort of plan for some sort of split.  Clearly the bishops had met and talked about things.  Bishop Ough reported to us that this had happened, and that they were not in agreement about how to proceed.  He said it wasn’t their job to bring legislation.  But a speaker formally asked that the bishops go back and work on a way for us to move forward on the issue of human sexuality. 

The ghost of Chuck Merrill was all over the sermon and worship this morning.  It brought me to tears, over and over.  The preacher, Bishop Ivan Abrams, General Secretary of the World Methodist Council, traced the history of the church as a tool of empire and exploitation of the least of these, over and over.  The logic of the 99, rolling over the backs and heads of the one.  Jesus of Palestine, not Jesus of Constantine.  

“We read the gospel as if we had no money, and we spend our money as if we had no gospel.”

For me, this word gave a context, deep and broad, for all our issues and our conflict.  We are part of a long legacy of church that has been misguided and deluded.  All have fallen short.  All are prone to slather our self-interest with the name of Jesus, especially when we are part of the 99 and not the 1.  

This service and sermon increased my gratitude for the prayer beads we received when we arrived.  I had been somewhat confused about the sheep that is part of the medallion design.  And maybe I still don’t know the original intent, but now for me it stands for the lost, forgotten, exploited one, the one God will never stop seeking, the one for whom Christ’s heart breaks.  Sometimes that’s me, and a lot of times it’s somebody else I’ve forgotten about. The beads mean a lot to me now, and more so every day.  I feel like I’m hanging onto them for dear life, as this ship sails into darker and more dangerous water.  

With all of that, I have what may seem an ironic comment on some song lyrics the presiding bishop used in a prayer as we entered our plenary work.  The song is “Bind Us Together,” and it’s in The Faith We Sing.  I never have liked it.  “Bind us together…with cords that cannot be broken.”  It has always sounded to me like emotional fusion, from a family systems perspective.  We already have plenty of places where people are bound with cords that can never be broken, even if we do call that binding “love,” places where no change can happen as a result. Instead, I would rather be bound with cords that people have chosen.  The bishop in his prayer asked that God would keep us together with “chains, ropes, whatever it takes.”  I know what he meant to express was a fervent desire to keep this church together.  But we are going to have to choose that.  We are going to have to choose love, as an act of the will, as an act of self-sacrifice on behalf of the one we don’t believe we can live with.  I don’t know exactly what that looks like in this case, as some of us clearly hold irreconcilable differences, but we have to figure it out.  

There are other things to write about, but I’m not going to get to those.  Just praying for sheep and love and what it takes to keep the flock together. 

May 16 Continued

Our first full day of plenary sessions was taken up mostly by reports, elections, and a protest.  The reports were good, full of many, many ways we can be proud to be United Methodist.  I hope even if you’re not watching via live stream that you’ll look up some of those reports.  They would make great viewing for local churches, even on the screen during worship.  

The elections…took…forever.  Judicial Council, University Senate, and the longest of all, the Commission on General Conference.  I was nominated for that last one as a South Central Jurisdictional rep by the Council of Bishops, along with a clergywoman from Louisiana.  Then there were a bunch of other people nominated from the floor for SCJ.  I figured it would be something of a horse race, as several jurisdictions had been hotly contested, and that was fine with me.  I hadn’t even known I was nominated until a couple of days ago!  But go figure, I got elected.  What does that mean?  I’m not sure yet, but based on the number of people who have said to me, “Congratulations—I think,” this looks like quite the assignment.  It’s the group in charge of planning the work of General Conference, from the host site to things like the Rule 44 process that was rejected this time by the body.  My term will be 8 years, which means I’ll help work on the conferences slated for Minneapolis (2020) and the Philippines (2024).  

Pretty soon after the election, a friend told me she just had one request for the next GC:  cookies.  “Remember when they used to have cookies?”  I do not remember that, but if I can just be in charge of the Snack Committee for the next two General Conferences, that will suit me just fine.

Finally, the protest.  In the middle of the Church and Society report, protesters wearing shirts with both Black Lives Matter and Reconciling Ministries logos entered the floor and walked through the room with chants regarding both issues.  They ended up at the communion table in the middle of the room, where they banged on its surface and called for accountability from the GC and the bishops on issues of racism and LGBTQ concerns.  The voices were full of pain and especially anger.  As loud as it was, though, I got the distinct impression that this was only the first step in what will likely be a progressively disruptive series of protests.  There has been talk of GC 2000 in Cleveland and the fact that police were called, and protesters arrested.  The planners (the commission I’ll be part of?  the bishops?) worked hard to keep that from happening the next time, and it hasn’t happened since.  It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if it happened here.  I fervently hope it doesn’t, but I think there are some folks who won’t go home without it.  

By bedtime, there was word on social media of a possible plan for a split in the church, supposedly coming from a conversation among the bishops.  I went to sleep skeptical and very willing to wait for more detail before jumping ahead.

May 16 / No idea anymore what # day it is

Yesterday was our Sabbath day, and it couldn’t have been any more welcome.  I slept in a little bit, then walked about a mile with friends in a light rain to First UMC.  The setting of that church was spectacular—pansies and roses, bougainvillea and hydrangea, woods dark and wet, the brilliant green of new grass in the rain.  Just the visual of that was rest and renovation for my spirit.  The music was excellent, and it was a joy to see young people confirmed into membership in the church on Pentecost.

I’ll write just a bit about Saturday.  That was a very long day in committees and subcommittees, and Higher Ed/Ministry/Superintendency didn’t finish—there was a huge stack of petition folders left over when we adjourned to begin our evening devotions at 9:20 pm.  Our experience was very positive and collegial, even during disagreement, and we did pass along a great deal of good work.  Other committees experienced drama that day, with protests and the approval of things like:  permission for churches to leave the UMC and take their property with them; mandatory penalty of a one-year suspension for all chargeable offenses against clergy when just resolution doesn’t meet the approval of the complainant; and a shift of $20 million in World Service funds from currently funded ministries to a church growth initiative developed by Don House of the Texas Conference.  Early ordination (separate from full conference membership for clergy) was not supported.  All of this will come to the plenary floor, as will some pieces that were not considered for lack of time—those take a petition with 20 signatures to get to the floor.

What I heard, in both subcommittee and committee conversation, was a clear level of frustration on the part of central conference delegates—from Europe and Africa—with the great number of issues we discuss that don’t impact them.  These issues affect ordering of ministry and local churches, pensions, property—the list goes on and on, as our rules allow central conferences to adopt their own practices in many areas of the church’s life.  So why should they have to sit through debate on all of that?  That was their question.  Several African delegates in our full committee, as we debated questions of same-gender weddings, said in effect, “If y’all can do that in a separate book, that would be fine.  We just don’t want it in our book.”  

Those comments, which I heard more than once, made me wonder, what’s keeping that change from happening?  More than once, including now in 2016, folks have proposed to separate parts of the Book of Discipline, to allow for cultural context.  Those proposals keep not passing.  We will see what happens this time, but if it makes such sense and has support from around the world, hopefully we can have conversation that shares openly our motivations and reasoning.  

I’m sending this off and will save today’s stuff for tomorrow.  We’ll see if I can keep up writing as the week goes on!

May 13 / Day 4

Friday the 13th.  It’s long been a lucky day for me, if there is such a thing.

Bishop Sally Dyck began the day with a rousing, provocative sermon on the word of the day:  Mercy.  Her question was what we consider incompatible with Christian teaching, and how it is that only one thing bears that word in our church’s discipline.  She argued that other things should be named incompatible as well, including racism.  Some responded to her sermon with outrage, while others felt valued and defended.

 Part of the Rio Texas Delegation during worship.

Part of the Rio Texas Delegation during worship.

The high point of the laity address that followed was the testimony of Hannah Foust of Indiana, who learned of the plight of women and girls in in Burkina Faso—where 1 in 3 children won’t survive past age 5—walking miles to draw water that could kill them, water that looked like chocolate milk.  She was inspired to raise money for clean wells—babysitting, raising money from others.  Thirteen wells now exist as a result of her actions, bringing fresh, clean water and life to whole communities.  She was moved by the story in scripture of Jesus feeding thousands of people with a little boy’s lunch.  “That’s truly a miracle,” she said, “because I don’t know many boys who would give up their lunch.”

One relative bright spot in the day occurred when a delegate moved yet again to stop using the iPads to get in line to speak—that wasn’t the bright spot—but we resisted the urge to go back to waving colored cards.  As one older delegate pointed out, even he had gotten dragged into the 21st century, and it was time to learn new things.  Plus, the lights were so bright in the bishops’ eyes, and lighting is still not good in the whole room, so for people to think they can be seen and called on is not sensible.  I can’t believe I’m still reporting on this, but we were still talking about it.

Legislative committees continued their work.  My subcommittee spent a lot of time on sacramental authority for deacons, trying to refine language that would make the purpose clear, which is to share the means of grace with the world, in missional settings.  We also discussed the proposed early ordination, followed by full membership after residency.  That major piece of the Study of Ministry report narrowly failed our subcommittee, 8-9, but will now proceed to the full committee.

In the full committee, we also examined the question of same-gender weddings.  The sub-committee brought a recommendation to accept the petition that would delete entirely the prohibition of these ceremonies, with no alternate language inserted.  The full committee voted that recommendation down, 38-39.  We then had to examine the five petitions, also dealing with the same passage, that the subcommittee had rejected in favor of the one they accepted.  The conversation was long and followed familiar paths.  African delegates noted that the Book of Discipline serves as their church’s constitution, and for them to function as legal entities in their countries, the document cannot permit things that are illegal in their countries.  Delegates from the US offered heartfelt stories about the people they hoped to serve in ministry if this rule were changed.  One noted that he had traveled to Africa and heard from gay and lesbian people, asking for help finding a safe space.  Another noted that gay and lesbian people in Africa live under threat of imprisonment or even death, and he asked why the church isn’t speaking up for them as vulnerable people, even if we don’t agree about this issue.  

Each of the five alternate petitions was rejected.  By the end of our conversation, once again (just as in GCs past) I feel we had heard each other deeply.  There were also various African delegates who mentioned the possibility of a separate book, rules for this kind of issue that would be culturally specific.  This too is a theme we hear a lot.  So we may decide as a full body to continue as we are, as there are certainly those who favor that course.  Or we may finally find a way to move beyond the same conversations we have every time we meet.  I am grateful, at least, for the continued opportunity to hear each other.  I do see new relationships forming, even if visible change resulting from those relationships might be long in coming.

At the end of the day, I was blessed to attend a gathering where Don Saliers, my systematic theology professor, and his daughter Emily, one half of the Indigo Girls, led us in beautiful music.  Both Indigo Girls later gave a fabulous concert, and via their songs I relived with joy my days in Georgia.

I’m getting these updates done and posted later and later, but it’s a good form of processing for me.  I’m also aware that I may not be getting everything exactly correct or may give impressions I do not intend by what I say or don’t say.  I’m trusting in your generosity, lovely readers.

May 12 / Day 3

“Robert [of Robert’s Rules of Order] wasn’t with Moses at Mt. Sinai.”
“I’m confused.  We came from a long way away, and it’s sleeping time.  We’re very confused.”
“I think we’re confusing God at this point.”

The wheels fully came off today.  iPads not working.  People waving colored cards instead, asking to speak.  The electronic queue with 15+ people waiting.  The bishop clearing the queue for new conversations, angering people who were in the line.  Arguments about point of order.  People shouting to/at the bishop from the floor (which was truly appalling).  Two different language translators speaking on the same headset channel.  

Seriously.  

 Left to right: Rev. Laura Merrill, Abel Vega, Rev. Dr. Ruben Saenz, Teresa Keese

Left to right: Rev. Laura Merrill, Abel Vega, Rev. Dr. Ruben Saenz, Teresa Keese

We finally ended up taking a final vote on Rule 44, and it did not pass.  So we will not use it, even though the Commission on the GC will likely do more work on a similar alternative process.  What did feel right, at least, was that good speeches were made, expressing the desire of many to sit at table for conversation.  It is disappointing that we won’t have that opportunity this time, but even some who supported the rule said we weren’t quite ready to implement it, especially on a topic as crucial and sensitive as human sexuality.  We heard from some folks who have already tried such alternatives in their annual conferences, with good results.  So maybe we can hope the next four years will be a time of development in that regard.  It’s just hard to live another four years until our next decision-making window.

We moved into legislative committees to begin our work, and my group, Higher Education and Ministry / Superintendency divided into five subcommittees.  In 2012 we had three subgroups, but the Superintendency part, which used to be its own committee, was folded in this year.  So we have a whole pile of legislation to deal with.  My 19-member subcommittee is a good group, fairly diverse, with members from across the US, plus central conference delegates from Germany, Russia (he just finished a stint in the Russian army), Angola, North Katanga, Liberia, and I think maybe one other African conference.  Our section of legislation deals mainly with the Study on Ministry Report, including the proposal to change the timing of ordination and full conference membership for elders and deacons.  We moved through some simpler bits today and began discussion of the study group’s proposal for authorizing deacons to perform the sacraments.  A form of this allowance is already in the Book of Discipline, but the seemingly small changes being proposed feel like they may have bigger implications that we may not even be able to anticipate fully from where we now sit.  So we decided to sleep on that and pick it back up tomorrow.  

Straight from the closing session of the full legislative committee, several of us moved to a dinner for the Interjurisdictional Committee on the Episcopacy.  This group comprises all the members of the Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committees from across the US.  Without our electronic voting keypads and 80+ people voting, it took us forever to elect a chair, vice chair and secretary.  We had a good time in between votes, though, and soon we moved to electing the remaining members of a 23-member executive committee. (What?  That doesn’t sound at all clunky.)  Four people from each of the five jurisdictions, plus the officers.  One of the four is supposed to be the chair of the new episcopacy committee, which of course won’t even be constituted until the end of Jurisdictional Conference this July.  

Why do I tell you all of this?  Because somehow I got myself elected as chair-apparent of the South Central Jurisdictional committee.  Which is crazy and not something I was prepared for.  But that’s pretty much the story of my life.  These are committees that deal with where bishops serve.  That’s an understatement, actually, but it’s as much of a description as I can give right now!

It’s been a full, exhausting day.  The morning was chaotic and unbelievable, and the rest fairly productive.  I’m just hoping to sleep well.

May 11 / Day 2

I’m already on overload with regard to what to blog about, so this is longer than I might like.  Feel free to stop reading at any point!

Worship this morning hit home for me during a prayer of confession, when we were invited three times to fill in the blank:  “I confess that I have not… / my congregation has not… / the United Methodist Church has not..."  When we got to the space for what the UMC has not done, I felt deeply the diverse and even divergent prayers going up in that moment, the things that a whole range of people in the room and watching the live stream were lifting up in their hearts.  What one person prays in confession as a sin of omission is to another a sin of commission.  And even the pain of that for me was its own kind of confession.  I don’t know where that will lead us, but sending it up in prayer is a good first step.

Bishop Greg Palmer gave a rousing episcopal address and offered us a key word:  humility.  My eyes teared up as he led us in the intimate words of the Collect for Purity—“Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden…”   He noted that General Conference 2012 took a lot out of us as a church, and that many of us have shown up in Portland expecting the worst.  He also said that our capacity for turning on each other is destroying the soul of this church and underserving the mission to which God has called us. He invited (well, that’s a mild word for how he said it) to remember that we didn’t make this up, and that if we believe we belong to the life and work of God, if we are truly prisoners of hope, we have to pick up this work and live into it, come closer to each other, hold things together that don’t look like they belong.  He urged us to reclaim our vocation as full-time Christians; “it’s going to take a full-time church to increase people's faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.” Bishop Palmer did his powerful best to remind us of our holy context and of the stakes involved in the way we live and work together.

As we proceeded, we practiced something that has been suggested several times for our work in El Valle District.  All delegates are asked to use headsets or a cell phone app for translation, so no matter who’s talking, all can hear simultaneously in their own language (wait, that sounds like Acts…)  This way, delegates who don’t speak English can speak freely at the microphone, without having to wait for translation to the whole group.  This process keeps people from being singled out as different, dependent, or insufficient.  I feel pretty proud of myself when we make English to Spanish translation happen at district events, but this would be a whole other step toward equality in diversity.

As expected, Rule 44 turned out to be a central topic of discussion.  (A report with information about the rule is available here:  http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/gc2016-adopts-most-rules-but-defers-rule-44)  First we voted to table the rule; the motion wasn’t restated just before the vote, and some were not clear what we were voting on.  A Bulgarian delegate moved that we untable it, and that passed.  Then there were multiple amendments offered to the Rules Committee for their consideration, and for our vote tomorrow.  There are strong feelings about this proposed process, and those seem to fall along the lines of disagreement on issues of sexuality.  Those who want to change the church’s language are generally in favor of Rule 44, and those who do not, are not.  That’s not necessarily to say that the converse is true—I think it’s possible to support the rule on principle.  My reason for supporting it is a desire for us to hear each other.  I’m not sure it provides a perfect forum for that, but why we think the current 3-speeches-for-and-3-against system is getting it done for us is beyond me.  I just believe in the power of conversation and the power of the Holy Spirit to open up roads we might not have been able to see before, whatever that might mean.  Humility.

The value of that kind of time became clear during our time of Christian conferencing after lunch.  In our legislative committees, we were divided into discussion groups around the question of the global connectional church and what things might be important to include in a global version of the Book of Discipline.  At my table were two DSs and two deaconesses from the Philippines (very sleepy, because for them it was the middle of the night), one layman from Nigeria who recently planted a church, and several others from the US.  The US folks listened and learned about the Philippine and Nigerian contexts, which were fascinating, and by the end of our two hour time, we were sharing pictures of our children and friending each other on Facebook. No one changed anyone else’s mind on any important matters, but we came away sharing joy and affection for each other. Would that goodwill endure a hard theological discussion?  I don’t know, and maybe we’ll find out, as we begin our legislative work tomorrow.  But I am grateful to have been given time around the table to establish relationship.  I know I generally can tend to be naive, but for me, when we have all sorts of reasons not to talk to each other, this kind of relationship still counts for something.

May 10 / Day 1

The first day of GC is always funny. Our first plenary session was initially consumed by conversation about iPads we were to use to put ourselves in line to speak to motions on the floor. Each table of five people has an iPad, and each delegate will enter an ID number and what they seek to speak to. There were lots of questions about how this will work. Getting in line electronically feels like letting go of control--it can take time to get yourself on the list, someone else might get there first, and only the presiding bishop sees the whole picture of who's seeking to speak. Plus some of the tables reported that their iPads didn't work. 

This would be a huge change from the way this process happened in 2012, and an attempt to address problems there. In Tampa, the room was set up lengthwise, so that the back of the room was the farthest point from the front. People who wanted to speak held up neon green or red-orange cards to speak for or against, and waited to be recognized by the bishop. By the end of that crazy last day, when great swaths of our work had been declared unconstitutional, the process went wacko, as folks struggled for the floor. I'll never forget Bishop Whitfield speaking to people at the back of the room: "I'm sorry, if you stand on the tables, that's out of order, and I won't call on you."

We did go back to colored cards today, after someone noted that we were still debating the 2016 rules, which meant we were still under the 2012 rules, which said to use cards. And that also meant we had to adjourn at 9:30 instead of 6:30, as proposed in the not-yet-approved 2016 rules. We finally got all approved except Rule 44, which we'll consider tomorrow, and which I'll talk about when I'm not sleepy. 

It all is at once maddening yet also what we do. I heard one bishop remember that we did this in 2012, too--spent the whole first day and evening arguing about rules, then finally approving them in their original form.  I know there's anxiousness and mistrust at the bottom of it, plus I'm sure an opportunity for us to find a better way to consider these things. How we function is important. It's just that the way we figure that out can feel mind-numbing and eats up time.  And our reliance on Robert's Rules, which are in the abstract intended to make things fair and equal for all, often ends up leaving a whole bunch of people out of the conversation. It also allows those who know the system to work the system. I remember much of that system, believe it or not, from student council in high school. But it's not a common language or skill anymore, and certainly not on a global scale. And that's part of what Rule 44 is trying to address. 

More about that on Day 2. 

May 9 / Day -1

This is happening! I will spare you the ridiculous drama of the past day, deciding what to pack and which bag to pack it in, which shoes will keep my cantankerous feet happy. I will tell you that I already know I left both my computer power cord and my distance glasses at home. So that means the only screen I'll have to look at is my phone!  Sounds manageable to me. 

As I covertly, surreptitiously scope out my fellow travelers on the flight from DFW to Portland, I note that I'm the only one I can see who brought the enormous books of legislation (Advance Daily Christian Advocate, Volume 2, Sections 1, 2 and 4) on the plane to study.  Everyone else is clicking and tapping and swiping away at their tablets and small, manageable laptops. I just haven't downloaded it yet. On my computer with no power cord. Plus I like paper and making notes and such. I know you can do that electronically too--I'm just still old school about that. Just like Bible apps are good for looking up passages, but not if I want to flip back and forth and spend some time. 

I'm guessing half this plane is probably United Methodist. I did meet up with one old friend from my Tucson days back at the gate before we boarded. But others seem to be mostly keeping to themselves, from what I can see. Maybe conserving energy for the work to come. 

I saw gorgeous mountains out the window, including Mt. Ranier and Mt. St. Helens. 

And upon arrival, I see the enormous trees, feel the cool air, and hope for our time to come.