A Positive Rant?!?
As United Methodist clergy, I followed the 2012 General Conference pretty closely. Of course, I had my personal “horses” in the legislative arena that I wanted to win…some did, some didn’t. By most standards, the General Conference was a giant flop. I have some opinions about that (squandered opportunities and all), but I’m not so sure the status quo is necessarily the problem within our
culture (at least not the primary problem).
Last week was our Indiana Annual Conference session, so clergy and lay delegates gathered in Indianapolis to legislate for the Indiana Area of the UMC. As we gathered, there wasn’t really a lot of business to be done. Then, why gather? Here’s where the positive ranting comes in…
1. We are required by our Book of Discipline (UM book of law) to gather on various levels at various intervals. We can’t “cancel” Annual Conference sessions (although we can add them if needed).
2. John Wesley was the founder of Methodism, and he taught, believed and insisted on a concept called “holy conferencing.” These conferences are the most logical place for large-scale holy conferencing to happen.
3. We pastors get moved around by our system. It’s always nice to get to see some of our fellow clergy that we don’t get to see so often.
Well, I’m glad we are ‘required’ to meet regularly. An institution that doesn’t regularly evaluate and mutate a little bit easily becomes a “dead sect”. Even if we have little business to do, it still is helpful to be reminded of who we are and to get together in such a way. Of course there are easier and faster ways to make some of the more basic decisions, and if the legislation were the only element of Annual Conference, I would be disappointed we didn’t shorten the event and submit our votes electronically.
This idea of ‘holy conferencing’ is an interesting fellow. Sadly, our denomination has a tendency to separate the idea into two concepts. We want to preach and teach a holy Gospel (as well we should), and call people to holiness of head and heart (as well we had better). Then, we often take ‘conferencing’ as the time to drive agendas to the fore. The General Conference sounds like a place I wouldn’t want to be. It sounds like Congress more than a gathering of Christian folk: agendas and caucuses and lobbyists and protests and fighting and bickering. As Charlie Brown would say, “Good grief!!!”
I saw a lot more “holy conferencing” going on at the Annual Conference, though. The spirit of worship was thick during our times together. We had good teaching from solid teachers (and who couldn’t listen to Fiona Macleod’s accent for a couple more hours?). We had time to share with our friends across the state we don’t get to see so often. Sure, we did the necessary business (the typical dry boring part), and heard some reports of the positive things happening as we ‘make disciples’ together in Indiana.
The only resounding negative I would bring to the table would be the cost of downtown Indianapolis and the lack of representation of the smaller churches. I can’t help but think that $20/day parking; hotels in excess of $100/night; a $25 registration fee (is that even constitutional?); and all of the other fees (for example, $15/day for Internet at the Convention Center); and higher prices for meals combine to tell the smaller church to stay away. I love the centrality of Indy for the state., but with 2 college campuses (campi?) with athletic programs (gym/arena for such an event) in Indianapolis (one of which is a United Methodist school), I can’t help but think there was a better venue waiting for us in 2012 & 2013.
All-in-all, if this Conference represents that status quo…we have bigger ‘problems’ to solve. This was a good event and demonstrated the strengths of both the United Methodist culture and the Indiana Conference. It renewed the fervor to preach the Gospel, even if we disagree on some of the specifics of how…we agree on why, right?!?! Perhaps the problems on the General Conference level don’t begin with structure, but a segregation of holy and conferencing. Maybe the General Conference could learn something from the Annual Conference. Maybe the way to learn those lessons doesn’t lie in a restructuring but in a re-focusing on our biblical and doctrinal heritage.
So here’s to genuine holy conferencing. Here’s to finding a way to send it ‘up the hill’ to the General Conference level by 2016. Here’s to finding a more reasonable venue for the future! And here’s to a good Conference that left (at least) this pastor renewed and inspired to continue the journey of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
What do you think?