Secret Diary of a Delegate- overview

General Conference logo, United Methodist Communications

Not that there’s anything really secret about it. I think I just want to pretend I’m Billie Piper.

I am a clergy delegate to the 2012 United Methodist General Conference. For my non-Methodist friends (I do have a few!), this is the once-every-four-years gathering of clergy and lay members of the United Methodist Church, elected by their home conferences (geographic regions), and meeting together to worship, fellowship, discern, envision, deliberate, and set church polity and position for the global church body. I’m a major church politics nerd, but I think it’s a huge deal, and I’m super excited to attend and honored to be a delegate.

It seems to me that the experience should be recorded somehow, so I will attempt to keep as faithful a record as I can of the proceedings leading up to, during, and after General Conference 2012 (and Jurisdictional Conference 2012 as well– but we’ll get to that later). My entries will be tagged “GC2012″.

There are some nuts and bolts as to how the process goes down, but mostly I’ll probably yammer on about positions, concerns, celebrations, and challenges.

Briefly, my technical experience so far has been interesting. I was elected second to our clergy slate, and am the sole clergy person from the state (and district) of Vermont. Our delegation has been meeting every 4-6 weeks to go over details, begin to look at legislation, and to learn more about people who may be nominated for possible election of bishops (which is another something I’ll get into later). Each delegate is assigned to a committee, dealing with particular topics of legislation; mine is Church and Society 2, and this committee will deal with all petitions regarding human sexuality (typically, specifically, attempts to change the church’s current stance that homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching”). Registering for a room has been a headache, but not worthy of a blog post.

The major themes and positions I am watching are juicier, and I’ll try to tackle each one in its own conversation at some point. Here’s what you (and I!) have to look forward to:

  • Both personally and as a member of the Church and Society 2 committee, I will be working closely with proposed changes to the church’s stance on homosexuality. I support changing our denominational policy to ordain and appoint gay and lesbian clergy, to allow United Methodist clergy to officiate at weddings and holy unions of gay and lesbian couples, and to eliminate the language in our Discipline that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. This is why I ran for GC delegate, and where I feel our church is currently committing the gravest errors.
  • However, I think our denomination is in danger of committing even greater errors with the proposed restructuring of our church through several aspects of a proposal known as the Call to Action. These include: replacing boards and agencies with a smaller overseeing board more like a general board of directors, focusing on statistics as measures of church vitality, and changing aspects of our church structure (coming out of the Study of Ministry) to make us less personal and connected.
  • There has been lots of attention around legislation to divest United Methodist funds from companies that benefit from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am very interested to see how this plays out. I would not have expected this legislation to be so controversial, and I support the proposal, which I see as neither toothless nor anti-Israel.
  • I believe it is vital that our church do more to encourage environmental stewardship and protection in churches and in society at large. I am not informed about specific legislation in these areas, but I hope there is some, as I think the future of life of earth is at stake, no joke.
  • An online contact has brought a petition about more equitable pastoral compensation, including recommending a salary cap. I’m interested to see where this goes, as I think the church needs to equip local congregations of all sizes and not pool resources, funding, and talent around mega churches.
  • At heart, the question we are wrestling with has to do with the nature, the heart, of the United Methodist Church. Who are we? What do we value and how? How do we live in difference? How do we measure, celebrate, and inspire toward faithfulness to our call from God?

Sermon: No Matter How Small

“No Matter How Small”

(April 25, 2010 – Earth Day) When viewed in perspective, our world is incredibly small, like the speck on which the Whos live in Dr. Seuss’s stories. And yet, we find that in our smallness, we are precious to God and we must be precious to one another. Our “text” is the greatest revelation of God’s work there is: the world.

the film clip is “The Pale Blue Dot” accessed on YouTube.

This is one of those times I wish I’d recorded the first sermon. It was better.

You should watch this movie

I’m not having much luck with the embedding thing, so you’ll have to click links, sorry!

I’m very excited about this documentary coming out: No Impact Man. It follows Colin Beavan and his family in a one-year experiment to reduce their impact on the environment to zero (or close to it). The No Impact Man himself is also releasing a book and continues to operate his blog, detailing not only this project, but thoughts and reflections about what he and his family learned and tips for what others can do.

I’ve resonated with this project (I’m ashamed to say from a safe, comfortable distance with my latte in my hand) for some time, and with what it teaches us about having enough and living simply. I even preached a sermon about it just over a year ago. The reason I think the film is so great is that it looks like it brings a huge sense of humor and humility to the project, and brings it to a level where people can really relate. I think it’s one thing to read about some guy trying to do good; we think he’s showing off or has a guilty conscience or at the very least is really weird, much weirder than us and so we could never do that. Watching Colin and his wife and their daughter struggle through it, seeing their frustrations and their joys, makes it that much more real.

I can’t wait to screen the movie at church, and have the discussion about how each of us– and how we as a church– can reduce our dependence on stuff and our impact on the earth. Is it possible to have a No Impact Church?

40 ways for 40 days

We’re all carbon addicts. We live lives dependent on goods and services being moved to where we are and dependent on our own ability to travel, buy, and use.

I practice a couple of Lenten disciplines, usually centering around taking on something rather than giving something up (most often, an additional spiritual practice like extra prayer or Bible study). But for those who do “give something up” for Lent, may I join my brothers in the Church of England who suggest that this year people try a carbon fast.

Why?

There are the usual reasons like the planet, you know, dying if we continue to consume at these rates, but perhaps you want something more spiritual from the pastor recommending a Lenten discipline?

How about this: I firmly believe that the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in/on/under/above it. I believe that only when we reverence all of life do we truly embrace God. I believe that our selfish dependence on fossil fuels is not only destructive to others but to our own spirits, because we tell ourselves that we deserve the best and most disposable products and we must have them now. I believe that we are actually happier, healthier, more spiritually centered people when we are living in harmony with the Universe and not in opposition to it. Reducing our impact on the environment promotes justice and well-being for all of creation an teaches us to live out of God’s abundance and care rather than our own needs and desires. And that, I think, is what giving something up for Lent is all about.

The above link contains ten simple, every-day ideas to undertake a carbon fast. I figured I could do better than that.

Under the cut, 40 way for 40 days: simple, everyday ideas to begin a Lenten carbon fast.

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Um, Pastor, didn’t I see you at the State House?

At the NY Stae House in 2005

At the NY State House in 2005

Tomorrow is Visibility Day at the Vermont State House. It is a day for all those who support equal marriage for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons to be seen and heard, to talk with their representatives, and to give voice to their support of full equality in marriage. I plan to be in attendance.

First let me say that for a social-justice oriented person like me, being in ministry in a state capital is a tempting thing. I could find myself three blocks away at the capital building nearly every day of the week, supporting or protesting something. Realising that this could eat up a considerable portion of the time I have to do all of my ministry (and this is a part of my ministry, I do believe), I have given myself three areas where I will intentionally be socially and politically engaged as well as spiritually.

1. Addressing local housing issues. Not only do I think this is a pressing concern (about which I have blogged quite a bit), but I think that the approach is essential. It is not helpful for a bunch of middle class persons to get together and talk about homelessness and the lack of affordable housing and come up with ‘solutions.’ The proper approach I believe is to build some community around listening to the experiences and wisdom of those who have lived, are living, or are in danger of living without housing. Their knowledge of the problem and their suggestions for action should carry far more weight than those of folks (even the best-intentioned advocates) for whom this is a hypothetical question.

2. Ecology, Stewardship, and Sustainability. Because, frankly, we’re all in a world of trouble if we don’t clean up out act, kick our oil addition, and re-localize our economies. This is a moral issue, both in terms of the distribution of resources and in terms of the care of the earth, God’s sacred creation. The church has to be a leader in the movement to place care of the earth and one another above convenience and consumption, and one of the ways we need to minister is to engage in political action as well.

3. Full inclusion of GLBT persons in all aspects of society (including equal, non-separate marriage status). Understand that here I step beyond the current textbook stance of he global United Methodist Church, and that if your position differs from mine (especially you, members of my congregational communities!), there is plenty of space at the table for all positions within the United Methodist Church and within the congregations of Trinity and Grace UMC. Accord with the pastor in this issue is not a requirement! However, I feel strongly that this is a justice issue, particularly with respect to the civil rights afforded our citizens, and particularly when it comes to creating a separate-and-not-quite-equal citizenry. I also feel that for too long the faith community has been painted with a broad and monochromatic brush, so that to be a person of faith (let alone a leader in a faith community) is to oppose gay marriage. This is not the case, and other clear voices are needed to speak an alternative position. I therefore slap on my clerical collar and join in the day of witness, not as a representative of Grace or Trinity United Methodist Church, not as a representative of Troy Annual Conference or the United Methodist Church as a whole, but as a representative of the people of God and the clergy who serve in God’s church who think and feel differently. I do it as a representative of my own heart and my own conviction, because if I lacked heart and conviction of any kind, or ignored the heart and conviction that I have, I would be a poor example indeed.

As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments, and ideas, wherever you’re coming from.

It Ain’t Easy…

grass-low-sproutBeing green and churchy at the same time.

First, a couple of assumptions for this post.

1. Climate change is real, significant, and really significant. I grew up knowing this– way beyond aerosol cans or cfl light bulbs, there is substantial and irreparable damage that humankind has inflicted on this planet, especially since the discovery, mining, and burning of fossil fuels. This is reaching, if it has not already reached, a critical upper limit, and if we don’t halt or reverse this trend, um, it’s going to be very, very bad.

2. Peak oil/energy is real, imminent (or just past), and really significant as well. Oh, there’s plenty of oil in the ground, but it will soon cost almost as much energy to access and transport it as the well will yield. And there’s not more to be had once it’s all gone. The consequences of running out of fuel and/or only select wealthy persons having access to it are practically apocalyptic. How do you get to the store for food? How does the food get to the store? How do you get to a clinic for medicine or the medicine get to you? How do you get to work? What do industries like manufacturing, transportation, tourism, shipping, and so on look like? How are plastics made? How does someone who doesn’t own land (to grow food on) and can’t afford a hybrid and lives too far from a town center to walk even imagine a life without oil?

I’m not going to spend my time fleshing out the scenarios of these two problems coming to a head at once. It’s depressing and frightening and induces in me a sort of terror that I usually reserve for zombie movies and dental work. At the conference I attended last week, these were taken as fact (which they are), and we focused more on response.

Who is the church and how are we called to respond in light of climate crisis and peak energy?

The church is who it has always been, the body of Christ, the light of the world, the community of hope, the city on a hill. It’s just that now that city needs to be a transition town.

That’s how I think we are called to respond. We must be the centers of a new kind of community, a new way of living together. The post-oil world will not look that different than the pre-oil one. We’ll farm and trade goods. we’ll live in closer communities. We’ll interact with each other instead of our televisions. We’ll sparingly interact with the outside world (because we’ll still have computers that run on solar energy–I’m not giving up my Internet!). We’ll look out for one another, sharing what we have, carpooling if we really must go somewhere, building systems of transportation (of people and goods) and communication that are sustainable. We will support one another in the times of chaos and uncertainty and grieving–yes, grieving, because it’s not just the things we think we love that will not survive major climate crisis and energy collapse, there will be people, too.

And imagine if the church was there for all of that. Imagine if our lawns were the community gardens. Imagine if our basements and halls and sanctuaries were the places to stay warm. Imagine if our telephones and computers were the channels of communication. Imagine if our clergy and laity were the prophets of hope and the arms of support in times of struggle. Imagine if we were the positive model of how to live together, how to share, how to weather the fear and the transition around us.

We’ve been this before. In her infancy, the church was the sustainable, thriving, alternate community in the face of Roman oppression. Can we now be the sustainable, thriving, alternate community in the face of climate crisis and energy collapse?

For the church to answer this call, we have to do several things. First, we have to confess that we are just as addicted to oil and pollution as any other organization, that in fact our buildings are often the least efficient uses of space in town. Ouch. And like any good confession, we can’t stop there but must move on to repentance, to changing the way we do things as a church and the way we encourage each member of the community to do things by our words and deeds. We may need to walk away from our buildings, or share them, or use them differently. We need to begin to organize the things that will need to be in place: community gardens and agriculture, food banks, time banks and bartering, medical clinics, carpools, shared technological equipment, agency resources. We have to have at least a little of our act together if we hope to help others.

But before we can build all that, we need to build community.

That sounds familiar.

Wait, Becca, you say, I thought you cared about housing and people living homeless? Didn’t you blog about that at length? I did. And I also said that what we need to begin to address that situation is to build community.

Could it be that these communities are the same? Could looking out for one another in terms of shelter and food also mean looking out for the whole community and for the earth? Could that be our calling in this time and place? As I said in an earlier post,

Suddenly I’m thinking that the call of the church is not just to community, but to sustainable community, in all of the senses (environmental, economical, social, spiritual…) we can imagine.

It’s not going to be easy. But then again, Kermit always said being green wasn’t easy. Come to think of it, Jesus said the same thing about discipleship.

Thinking like an Introvert

Many people who know me are surprised to learn that on a Myers-Briggs test, I am actually an extrovert by only a small margin. While it’s true that I love to be around people and have no fear of speaking in front of crowds, and often process all of my thoughts and feelings right out in the open, I also sometimes behave a little more like an introvert. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the constant stimulation of being around people, or need to recharge my batteries by curling up with a good book for a few hours. And sometimes, although this is rare, I need to process thoughts not by talkig/blogging them out, but by sitting with them for a time.

That’s what I’ve been doing. Thinking. Thinking like an introvert. I’ve been reading and pacing and pondering, and not doing much writing. Healthy and necessary, but it doesn’t make for a very interesting blog!

I attended a confernece for three days last week about the church’s role in the environmental crisis and response, and I have a lot to say about it, I think. I’m just taking my time thinking about it first.

So, after a large funeral tomorrow (which I spent my day off preparing for), after I pick my daughter up from preschool and take her to the polls with me for an exciting and historic vote, I’ll have some time to put words to my thoughts. Maybe while I’m waiting for the election results to come in, or maybe Wednesday while I’m taking time off. But soon. Really. Because this is something I think the church should be doing yesterday.

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