Thursday, June 07, 2007

Reflections on Annual Conference

It's been a couple of days home now, so I feel like it's safe for me to talk about it. I didn't want to write from my gut level emotional reactions to annual conference, as there were a great many of those and I needed time to process...

My first observation is that Annual Conference is basically like a really long Administrative Council meeting - but with a lot more people. Ad Council is the governing body of a congregation (at least in the United Methodist Church) and this is the governing body of the conference (which in this case is the state of MO). Annual Conference, as the name suggests, happens once a year, so all of the business, all of the committee reports, all of the petitions, etc. have to get done there and then - which makes for long days.

Actually, this year there was a special session called in March so some of the business of conference reorganization had been dealt with already - but much of it is an ongoing process that seems to mainly be under the control of a small group of people known as "pathways." I wasn't involved in the conference last year so i don't know who these people are and where they came from or why they were formed, but that's who has been making a lot of big decisions. We're restructuring the whole conference, making two new offices and supposedly streamlining operations so that congregations can better focus on "making disciples for Jesus Christ." Don't get me started on this whole new mission statement thing - that's a whole different blog entry.

There were only 3 petitions for vote this year, which was very surprising to me. In other conferences there would never be less than 20 to consider. This is especially surprising given that this is the last session before General Conference (which is the once every 4 years meeting that determines the Book of Discipline, or operating rules, for the entire denomination) so anything that we wanted to bring to GC 2008 had to be voted on this annual conference. The debate over the three petitions was quite intense - all three of them dealt with matters of LGBT persons, so of course there was controversy and high emotion - and for me it felt personal. I'll have to write another entry about the petitions themselves and the debate (there were some pretty intelligent comments made - and others that weren't so much) around them, but in general I think where the conference voted says a lot. The first petition dealt with the Global AIDS fund that General Conference 2004 established. We were supposed to have raised $1 per church member to put into that fund in the quadrennium and up to this point the MO Conference hasn't so they tried to establish the first Sunday in December as a day for a special offering but the wording was changed so that it was a recommended action (so as not to overburden the beginning of Advent or something) and I highly doubt many churches will choose to participate but at least it's encouraged. The 2nd petition was split into two parts and that was very confusing for many people to deal with. It dealt with Judicial Council decision #1032 (see previous blog posts, including my first ever) and stated (1) affirmation of the Council of Bishops letter and (2) a petition to General Conference 2008 to add language that persons are not exempt from membership in the UMC based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There was a lot of discussion, but we passed the language to take to General Conference which is GREAT NEWS!! I was very proud to see that come about. The bishops' letter however, appeared to be too much for many folks to understand and it was postponed indefinitely. More on that another time. The third petition was regarding marriage - affirming the definition already in the Social Principles that says marriage is "one man and one woman" and encouraging state laws and General Conference policies that affirm that stance. This was by far the most confusing part of the whole session. After much debate around parliamentary procedure, attempts to split the questions and arguments about what the presenting committee had done and what it meant, the question was called before the petition itself was ever debated. It passed, which makes me a little sad, but it was expected.

I left Sunday evening, when there was still more business in a Monday morning session, but all in all I got a good taste for the Missouri Annual Conference and it's workings. I got to put a lot of faces and names together, hear and see more about how things work, and learn things to do for next year. I will definitely be brushing up on parliamentary procedure and am hoping to get involved with a conference team at some point (social justice team most likely). I was a voting member this year as a young adult at-large district representative. Next year I should be commissioned as a Deaconess which makes me an at-large voting member of the conference. More in another entry later...

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