General Conference Notebook, April 20
I’m writing this from Ft. Worth, Texas, just a couple days before the 2008 General Conference of the United Methodist Church begins. The Council of Bishops holds its spring meeting in conjunction with General Conference, and so we’ve already begun our work.
There is a palpable air of anticipation before the gathering of nearly one thousand lay and clergy delegates representing congregations and conferences from throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa, the Philippines, and parts of Latin America. In addition to the delegates, at least another thousand people attend without vote – Bishops, representatives of Boards and Agencies of the church, mission representatives, judicatory leaders from autonomous Methodist churches from various countries, ecumenical guests, and people representing diverse special ministries, concerns, priorities, caucuses and causes. Over the next two weeks, all of these people from all around the world with varying perspectives on the mission of the church will worship, pray, deliberate, argue, laugh, cry, discern, decide, vote, and thereby set direction, policy, and budgets for the United Methodist Church for the next four years. At times during the Conference, the Spirit will move through the gathering in ways that are genuinely tangible and yet totally indescribable. At other times, the work will be so mundane, trivial, boring and dull that delegates will have to struggle to concentrate. And yet at other times, there will be heated exchanges, painful decisions, and people who feel hurt and defeated.
I’ve never attended General Conference as a Bishop, and so I don’t know what exactly will be required from me in this role. All the non-retired Bishops have undergone a refresher course together on presiding at General Conference, and none of us knows whether we shall be called upon to preside until the time comes. Presiding at General Conference involves several unique challenges – understanding the unique rules of General Conference that are different from the rules that guide our own conference sessions, adapting to the use of translators representing several language groups so that everyone can fully participate, and following or preceding others who preside with a different style and pace. Since no Bishop knows when or if he or she will preside, we all have to remain attentive to the proceedings so that if our time comes, we will understand what the conference has recently debated.
As time allows, I hope to share some thoughts and reflections through the Five Practices Blog. If you are interested, subscribe now so that you will receive reminders by e-mail. If you think others might be interested, let them know.
I’m looking forward to see how God uses us as United Methodists and leads us during these days to come. Stay tuned!
Yours in Christ,