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!