Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Settling Into Conference

Today was our first full day of Conference, in which we did not (yet) vote on Rule 44. But we did get our legislative committees organized, so tomorrow will be a full work day.
There is some serious natural beauty here in Portland!

I got up early to attend the Good News breakfast. I've never attended a Good News event, but was curious to give it a try. From the Good News website:
Since 1967, Good News has been the leading evangelical advocate, a voice for repentance, an agent for reform, and a catalyst for renewal within The United Methodist Church. Our mission is to lead all people within The United Methodist Church to the faithful and vibrant practice of orthodox Wesleyan Christianity.

The organization is not an "official" UMC organization, but they have a significant voice at General Conference. Breakfast meetings, which are open to any who care to attend, are opportunities for Good News members to organize to strengthen their voice and vote at GC.
I have absolutely no idea why the Good News organizers needed a suitcase full of scissors.
The experience was enlightening for me. Similar to the Women's Briefing, we sat at tables according to our legislative committee. I joined a group of strangers at the Judicial Administration committee. Only one face was familiar, and I realized that he had been the one man who sat at the JA table at the Women's Briefing. I naively thought he was sympathetic to women's issues. But it turns out that he attended for the purpose of scouting out what "the progressives" were planning regarding electing officers for the JA committee.
Judicial Administration Committee members discuss strategies for getting
Good News members in officer positions on the Committee.

Each legislative committee has a Chair, a Vice-Chair, a Secretary, and Sub-Chairs. If you are an officer, your voice is limited, because you have a leadership role to fulfill. The Secretary, particularly, is busy recording what is going on, and has a very limited voice. The strategy discussed this morning included getting a Good News Chair elected (the Chair has strong control over the direction of the committee). But the gentleman from the women's committee advocated for getting "the progressive's" choice for Secretary elected, so her voice would be diminished, and NOT electing the woman who had previously been lifted up as a Good News choice for secretary, Dionne Hammond, so she would be able to have more influence as a voice in committee.

As a first-time Good News observer, I have to say that the tone of the meeting was very "us against them" and "we must get our people in position so we can win." This divisive tone is pervasive at Conference, though it is often more subtle than what I experienced this morning.

The highlight of the morning was the Episcopal Address of Bishop Gregory V. Palmer (also here) of the West Ohio Conference. I don't think anyone could have done a better job of verbally setting a tone for us to turn to each other and not on each other at this Conference, and encourage you to take a moment to watch it.

After lunch, the legislative committees met to engage in intentional Christian Conferencing. This is new for GC2016, and seems like a good addition. Spending this time to get to know others in your legislative committee and practice having relaxed conversations about issues that face the church will hopefully be beneficial in the days to come.

Our last order of the day was to elect officers in our committees. Things played out exactly as planned at the Good News breakfast in the Judicial Administration committee, with Kimberly Reisman elected as Chair and Christopher Marshall from Liberia as Vice-Chair. Dionne Hammond did not opt out when nominated, but Rebekah Sweet, who was lifted up at the women's briefing, was elected for this position. [Words in italics represent a correction from the original posting. My apologies - I was too tired last night!]

The two committee sub-chairs elected are Amy Lippoldt (yay!) and Tim Rogers.
Translator booths are installed in each of the 12 committee rooms.

This is not to say that things went smoothly in legislative committee. Far from it. Each committee has a Bishop who oversees the original election. Our Bishop was Sudarshana Devadhar of the New England Conference, who did an excellent and patient job of reminding us to remain in a spirit of Christian Conferencing (i.e. "Do not tell your neighbor how to vote.") Votes in committee are taken on paper ballots and counted by hand. The global diversity of our denomination is more evident in committee, as the group is relatively small (about 60 in our committee), and more people have an opportunity to come to the microphone to speak. The first time a French-speaking gentleman came to the microphone, there was an awkward pause after his speech. Delegates had to find their headsets and put them on and have the gentleman repeat his speech. In past Conferences, these headsets have been worn only by non-English speaking delegates. This year, all delegates are asked to wear them, so they can hear the translation if a non-English speaker has the floor. If we've learned anything in our short time together, it is that we are not good at change. It confuses us and catches us off guard. It also slows things down and takes a lot of time.

But what about Rule 44? Well, it did make an appearance today. There continues to be a great deal of confusion, suspicion, and general uneasiness about this Rule. And there continues to be a great deal of confusion regarding how to vote on this Rule using our current parliamentary procedure. Early on in the discussion, the body voted to table Rule 44. The margin on this majority rule was only 8 votes. We attempted to then move on with our business, but it was brought to the Chair's attention that many of those who were voting did not understand what they were voting on. It turns out that "to table a motion" has a different meaning inside the U.S. than out of it (i.e. "Lay on the table" vs. "Bring to the table for discussion.") The Chair agreed to take another vote (after explaining clearly what we were doing), and the motion was lifted off the table (430-400). A number of amendments were proposed for the Rule, and it was sent back to the Rules Committee for revision before we (finally) vote on it tomorrow.

Whew! In many ways, it feels like we accomplished very little today. But hopefully, once we have our process up and running, we will be productive!
My favorite picture so far! Delegation members Jason Valendy, Jim Connor,
Marianne Brown and Kylie Campbell stike a pose on Broadway Avenue.

Rock Climbing, Industrial Safety, Rescue...and Ukuleles?! Brilliant!

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