A day after the celebratory tone of opening worship came a reminder that General Conference is one big, long meeting. As delegates got down to business, debate over one of the Rules of Order will stretch into a third day, while the episcopal address urged United Methodists to “trust God and go.”
In the episcopal address on May 11, Bishop Gregory V. Palmer laid out a path for the 2016 United Methodist General Conference: humility, humility, humility.
“Everyone here is a child of God. Any behavior to the contrary of that truth undermines the Gospel and is a choice to live beneath our privilege,” he said.
Palmer, bishop of the West Ohio Area, said his speech was an opportunity to set the tone for the gathering.
Many issues before the denomination’s top legislative assembly will require delegates to vote on difficult subjects such as human sexuality, divestment, and the denomination’s budget.
“Our capacity to turn on each other is destroying the soul of this church and underserving the mission,” he said.
Palmer said too many United Methodists are fearful about the survival of the church as an institution.
“Our theme and our mission statement are a rallying cry to get out, act together and get focused on what God is focused on — which is nothing less than new creation for people, nations, cultures and the earth,” he said.
Rule 44 deferred again
While Palmer alluded to the difficult issues General Conference must vote on, the way delegates will vote has proven the most difficult subject so far.
For a second time, a vote on the much-debated Rule 44 — a proposed Group Discernment Process — has been deferred a day.
The delay this time is to allow the lawmaking assembly’s Rules Committee to make recommendations regarding multiple amendments that came from the floor.
The Rules Committee met the evening of May 11 and will bring its recommendations back to the delegates as part of its report May 12.
If delegates adopt Rule 44, they will still need to take a second vote on whether they want to use it for any legislation in 2016 or wait to use it at a future General Conference.
Late May 10, delegates adopted the other 43 rules recommended by the commission that plans The United Methodist Church’s legislative gathering. The vote was 518 to 258.
Licensed local pastors in the background
Licensed local pastors don’t get to serve as delegates to General Conference, so when they sit in the plenary hall, they’re way back.
“The bleachers,” clarified the Rev. Mike Mahaffey, past president of the National Fellowship of Associate Members and Local Pastors.
But he and the Rev. Tom Herring, legislative chair of that group, will mainly work the committee rooms, monitoring all legislation that could have bearing on local pastors.
Mahaffey and Herring are monitoring about two dozen petitions.
Only one is what they consider hostile. It would let local pastors continue to serve on boards of ordained ministry and district committees on ordained ministry, but would remove their right to vote.
“We definitely don’t want any privileges removed,” Herring said.
Will GC2016 embrace Christian conferencing?
General Conference delegates spent two hours on May 11 on Christian conferencing, the practice of engaging in respectful and honest conversations. Leaders expressed hope that the session will set the tone as legislative committees begin meeting.
The 864 delegates met with their respective committees to share details about themselves, their ministry settings and their own ideas about living out the mission of The United Methodist Church. In groups of 12 sitting around round tables, the discussions among some of the groups evolved into relaxed, respectful conversations over the two-hour period.
“This process we’re doing here shows there is hope that we can do things in a different way,” said Andreas Elfving, a delegate from Finland-Sweden. “Perhaps we can focus less on demonstration and find things we have in common.”
Delegates of color
About 200 delegates of color and friends gathered for a pre-General Conference orientation sponsored by the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race in the Portland Convention Center May 10.
Participants received the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race’s “How to Be an Interculturally Competent Delegate at the 2016 General Conference” booklet, designed to help delegates build relationships across the diversity of peoples and cultures represented at General Conference.
In a response of love and prayer, the 35 million people who have died of AIDS were remembered in a vigil May 11 outside the Oregon Convention Center as the 2016 General Conference is meeting to decide church law for the next four years.
The United Methodist Global AIDS Fund vigil was sponsored by the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund Committee. Since the 2004 United Methodist General Conference approved the Global Aids Fund, the fund has raised over $3.5 million, benefiting 284 projects in 44 countries.
By Joey Butler
May 11, 2016 | PORTLAND, Ore.