Diary of a Delegate: Dude, where’s my church?

Twitter topic cloud from @andrewconard

Sisters and brothers, I don’t even know what day it is.

I think about 3 days of legislation have passed since last I posted. They weren’t good days for me and the people I care about. It seems that progressives make up about 40% of the voting body on just about anything. Other people have been reporting votes and issues. I’ve titled this a diary because it’s really about the experience.

The experience has sucked.

I’ve been exhausted, discouraged, and wrung out dry. We’ve lost votes on everything so far– actually not true.

Let me share my one victory: my subcommittee’s paragraph on abortion, which is an improvement over the current Book of Discipline, and which we hashed out in a respectful, holy way, passed the full body without incident. As the recording secretary for that subcommittee, I have officially written a section of the Book of Discipline.

The rest is a mess. A day ago, clergy lost guaranteed appointment, a policy that has provided for and protected the fair appointment of clergy without respect to gender or ethnicity or theological stance, but has also, it can be argued, prevented cabinets from removing ineffective clergy. The result was not actually the tough part– what was worse was that there was a glitch and then an attempt to correct the glitch. The full body would have to vote to even allow discussion on this very important matter for clergy and churches. They did not. So lots of people lost their job security if not yet their jobs, and their pastor’s confidence in her or his prophetic voice if not their pastor, without even a blink.

Today it’s been conversations about restructuring the church– I’m not even sure what we passed on to the finance committee, but I’m pretty sure it’s out of order, and I said so. That’s right. I came here to advocate for justice and instead I stood and the mic and read from the rule book. Yikes.

Even advocating for justice has been hard. We are not all of one mind as to what that justice might look like and how it is best accomplished (surprising, right?), and so those of us “on the same team” are sometimes disagreeing with one another. It gets messy. That’s relationship. Today I was speaking passionately with 3 other people, and realized that I was disagreeing with Mark Miller. The Mark Miller. I said that, in fact. “I’m yelling at Mark Freaking Miller!”

We’re all just in shock. What is clear is that this is not the UMC we all thought we knew. Yesterday, we debated the preamble to our social principles, a seemingly benign paragraph of the Discipline that some felt needed a greater expression of grace. There was a proposal that we add “We affirm that nothing can separate us from the love of God,” a direct quote from Romans 8. We debated whether or not we would affirm this statement of prevenient grace, *the* essential Wesleyan/Methodist tenant. 53% of delegates believed in God’s unconditional love. Only 53%.

This is not my church.

My fellow progressives and my delegation from New England (powerhouse people!) are all walking around like zombies, shocky and stunned and confused. What happened to the denomination that taught hope? love? grace? compassion? Gone. Copoted. Outvoted.

We’ve got a hail mary pass tomorrow, but mostly it will probably be another day of voting on things that matter deeply– how much we are willing to wound our GLBTQ members of the body. I expect the votes will go 60/40. I expect it will hurt like hell.

There aren’t words for the feeling tonight. It’s prayerful, but there aren’t words. Sighs too deep for words. I ache.

25 Responses

  1. There are Methodists around the country (including the South!) thankful for your faithfulness and passion. We are praying for the movement of the Spirit among the body and for wisdom and compassion in the delegates. May God multiply your rest!

  2. After all the tears and frustration, when we got to the part where people were actually having to discuss affirming Romans 8, I threw my hands up in the air and concluded the same thing you did, “This is a radically different church, from the one I knew and loved!” Thanks for going above and beyond the call of duty this week and letting everyone across the country get the inside story from GC. I hope the US churches will come together to get the US into a Central Conference, so that we can have discussions of our affairs where we can “afford” to actually discuss them. I noticed how they told everyone how much it costs per minute to hold conference and then got the calender voted on.

    • All I can say is yes. When we’ve had time to recover, this is the next conversation. I’m there.
      Shalom,
      Becca

  3. Becca – I am holding you in the light this week. You are courageous and prophetic. Thank you.

  4. I’m not sure if this has been your first GC experience, but it has been mine. And it is heartbreaking. It is painful. And even folks who have been here in the past have said that this feels different. In my heart, I don’t believe we have to be a global church at the expense of progressive stances of love and grace… or a church of stewardship and responsibility on the backs of women and persons of color… and yet every petition, every vote, every conversations puts those things at odds. I’m standing there with you in the midst of it…

    • Beautifully put. Yes, this has been my first General Conference, and it will not be my last. We will change this; it isn’t right. The system is broken, and so am I. “In my heart, I don’t believe we have to be a global church at the expense of progressive stances of love and grace… or a church of stewardship and responsibility on the backs of women and persons of color… ” Amen and amen.
      Until that’s true, prayer and hope,
      Becca

  5. Where’s my church? At the moment it seems to have disappeared, and I am not sure at all that it will ever return. I have been, in ministry since 1985 (I began as a student assistant minister at a Wesley Foundation on Eastern Kentucky University’s campus), and I have seen a continual shift since that time toward a more conservative and even fundamentalist church . . . beginning with the General Conference in 1988 that removed “pluralism” from the Discipline at the behest of many “tall steeple” churches and their pastors (See the Houston Declaration).

    With proportional representation now the norm in the UMC, and with the only growth over the past 20 years coming from the Central Conferences in Africa and the Philippines and the Southern Jurisdictions in the US (both of which tend more to conservatism than the other Jurisdictions in the US and perhaps Europe), the ability for progressive legislation to pass at General Conference is quickly approaching nil. In fact, there will an increasing preponderance of the opposite in upcoming General Conferences.

    I am also concerned about the passage of legislation that does away with Elder’s “security of appointment.” While I am not currently fearful of losing my job, this loss to me is a breaking of the covenant I made with the UMC when I was ordained. In other words, I agree to go wherever the Bishop decides to send me (the itineracy), but at least I will have somewhere to go (guaranteed appointment). I do not buy the arguments espoused that we need to do this in order to get rid of ineffective clergy, since we already had means to do this (and if these means were not used, then who was to blame? The Bishops and Appointment Cabinets that make the appointments.). And since 50% of active clergy will be retiring in the next 15 years, is there really a need to think our ranks even given the declining church in North America? I doubt it. This just places more power in the hands of Bishops and District Superintendents, and God help anyone who gets on their “bad” sides. Further, the protections put in place by an amendment are severely insufficient in my opinion. What we are left with the UMC is worse than a congregational system. At least there, you have some choice as to where you can apply to serve.

    Oh well, I have rambled enough for now. Bless you in your work, Becca. I have been following your tweets and reading your blog, and you will be in my prayers over the next few days. I wish I could believe they will be better than what has come before, but I just can’t.

    • You’ve articulated much better and much more fully some of what I was trying to say. Thank you.
      Peace and hope,
      Becca

  6. Here is a link for The Houston Declaration:
    http://www.ucmpage.org/news/anti_evangelical_book3.html#The Houston Declaration

  7. I have “watched & prayed” from Maine. I have wept. It is now 3:45 a.m. & I am reading this update. Thank you for standing strong. The Methodists were divided on slavery, segregation, women’s rights, and now all of this. The fundamental dividing issue is hermeneutics. I stand on the side of the progressives informed by “Open Minds. Open Hearts. Open Doors”. Oh, by the way, the church I serve is a turn-around church. On Easter, 40 percent of the people were 35 & under. In the past 4 years, 15-20 professions of faith, plus transfers. Liberal churches can be planted & grow in the New England Conference. P.S. I wish I could add to the Vital Statistics the people from around the world who view my preaching on YouTube. Just saying….

  8. After spending MOST of the last two weeks at General Conference advocating for my now defunct petition “A More Equitable Salary”, I am also discouraged about the future of the UMC. I have had little sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit at work except in a few drops from heaven from various wonderful musicans and in my connections with international delegates. I hoped that the service celebrating our new full-communion with traditional Black Methodist churches might save the day for me. (I have spent my career in the UMC as an advocate for racial justice and ethnic diversity within the church). While I celebrate our new connection with these churches, I am afraid it is still too little,too late, and not enough. I am considering “dropping out” of active involvement in the institutional church until God gives me clear direction. As you know, I am not an advocate for gay marriage or the ordination of homosexuals; but I believe that the adoption of our new structure renders many voices powerless—.Including mine.I do not want to blindly follow the “leaders” our church has put in place. I DO want to follow Jesus.

    • Yes Holly. The sense of disempowerment and the church slipping from grace and hope into abuse of power and fear goes way beyond any one vote or issue. I too want to follow Jesus. I want to follow Jesus in a Wesleyan tradition, shaped by grace and swimming in love. I want to be in full communion with all those we have pushed from our tables, and I want to be a global church that can hold one another in love across the great cultural, geographical, theological differences that divide us.
      One day. One day. This happens not by our power, but by God’s.
      Peace,
      Becca

  9. Hang in there….will certainly be praying for you, for our delegation, for everyone there, for our denomination, and for God’s peace to be found in the middle of it all.

  10. I am clergy from Oklahoma. I thank you for being at General Conf and fighting my fight. I pray for your strength and passion because my church is at sake.

  11. I have a question. What does the new paragraph on abortion say?

  12. Thank you, Becca, for your presence and witness in Tampa. We are holding you and all those who are hurting in our prayers today. You are making a difference and I hope you know how many people are there with you weeping and yet not giving up hope.

  13. This really is the most astonishing and amazing chronicle I’ve read in a long time. You may be feeling broken, but I have to believe that you are stronger for it, and for the love of God of which you remind everyone who encounters you.

  14. In has been a discouraging time and it’s hard to see how this can do anything but harm to our United Methodist Church. Thank you for your excellent work. This is my take on the Tuesday debacle:
    http://thinkfaithfully.blogspot.com/2012/05/nothing-can-separate-us.html
    .

  15. Thank you for your presence, grace and humor at General Conference, and sharing your views, with others who have similar views. The church is not “ours” and it seems we often forget that fact. I deeply appreciate your insights this week.

  16. Hang in there, Becca. Know that many of us are praying for you, following your witness down there, and will hold you, be with you, weep with you, and struggle to rebuild something new from the ashes with you when you come home!

  17. Thank you for your service at GC. I trust God will show us what’s next by and by. With love from the PNW AC,
    Ann

  18. I really think it is time to drop the slogan. Open hearts, open minds doesn’t seem to fit. I’m sad and disappointed, but not surprised. After 63 years as a Methodist I’m thinking about leaving. Thank you Becca for keeping us informed.

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