On July 23, DreamUMC hosted a Twitter Chat to reflect on the recent Jurisdictional Conferences of the United Methodist Church. In my opinion, this was one of our most exciting and fruitful conversations so far.
We began by asking people in Question 1 to name the highs and lows from their Jurisdictional gatherings, or from watching those gatherings from afar. Because I was moderating, I did not respond, but have written a separate blog post about what I saw as the highs and lows of the Northeast Jurisdictional Conference. Overall, I could summarize my hope for “more” in the words of one chat participant, who wrote, “I wanted to reflect that following jurisdictional conference via twitter and news outlets made it feel like a lot of regional navel gazing… I was hoping for jurisdictions to do something more missional rather than focus on the internal business of the UMC for itself.”
Despite this frustration with relative “stuck-ness” in the conferencing sessions, many participants celebrated moments of fun and joy in the midst of the conferences: singing, dancing and worship were lifted up, bishops elected and assigned, and several people rejoiced at prophetic legislation by the Western Jurisdiction (and a similarly-themed resolution in the Northeast Jurisdiction), calling for faithful ministry with persons who identify as GLBTQ, regardless of any prohibitions in the Book of Discipline.
Still, there were moments of pain and distrust, especially in the South Central Jurisdiction, where many grieved the situation surrounding the involuntary retirement of a sitting Bishop.
Some frustration revolved around a lack of diversity among nominees for both episcopal offices and for boards and agencies, and persons chosen/elected for those roles. One person reported that the Western Jurisdiction nominating report came back 80% white. Question 2 invited the twitter participants to engage the question: how did/does your Jurisdiction lift up gender/ethnic/age/sexuality/etc diversity (or have room to improve)? While many people celebrated the diversity of episcopal nominees across the country, and some historic elections, the deeper conversation pointed to a need for diversity beyond tokenism. One person tweeted, “diversity more than electing ‘firsts’. Must push ourselves to truly embrace diversity, not just check off a box.” Another reported that the Northeast Jurisdiction “filled retired bishop slots w/ same demographics of newly elected bishops (white female, white male, african american male).” Others raised observations about the wider church: “I am weary of diversity being an issue in elections of bishops. We should be looking at diversity in the LOCAL church,” and “diversity is also new people vs. folks who have served for years on boards, delegations. We should b more inclusive there 2.” One person reminded us that diversity and privilege can intersect but not necessarily cancel each other out: “White men can be the voice of diversity, too. It’s in their works and policies, not their skin color.” Preach.
For Question 3, we invited people to imagine the best ways to continue the conversation and where we might go from here, in the wake of the big-church gatherings. Many participants immediately spoke to the importance of focusing on the local level. “To the local churches and to the streets. Enough conferencing it’s time for action!” one person wrote. Authentic spirituality and deep faith at the local level are what matters, and from there, the movement builds from the grassroots up. Another participant pointed out, “we have to continue to raise concerns in church gatherings at the local level – starts with who we send to AC every year.”
Many, many voices spoke to the desire to continue the DreamUMC conversation, which we certainly intend, and to build upon it with local gatherings r networking/workshop type events. Using technology is essential to strengthen these efforts, including streaming events and gatherings, connecting across denominational lines, and building more comprehensive online interaction for people to engage beyond facebook and twitter.
Long range, participants hoped to keep up the good work. One wrote: “continue dreaming, include more people in the discussion, write legislation for #gc2016, mission.” Another person got others talking with the suggestion: “Continue by working to make #dreamumc an approved caucus for JC/episcopal endorsement purposes.” This generated conversation around what a DreamUMC caucus would look like and how to move beyond the perception of just being about one or two issues: “But we r so diverse that I worry this being labeled ‘what the younger people think’ #ifwewereacaucus.” A reply: “Feel u; 1 of my concerns all along re: #dreamumc Need for relevancy & structural change not just young thing #ifwewereacaucus” (my new favorite hashtag, by the way).
Finally, with Question 4, we focused on one way in which the conversation continues, forming work groups. Right now, we are still in the process of organizing people and the topics of interest they named, but the list of group is on facebook (which, I realize, doesn’t work for everyone– another aspect of what we are working on). We are looking into options for a website, google hangouts, and other technology fixes, while also hoping to have some face to face gatherings where those are possible.
I’ve been home from the Northeast Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church for a little over a week and a half, and I’m still mentally unpacking (although I actually did unpack my suitcase after almost a week).
From my perspective, the highs of the NEJ gathering centered on one event: the election as bishop of my colleague, Rev. Martin McLee. Martin– ah, Bishop McLee– is a passionate and compassionate preacher-prophet, and his voice as leader of the New York Annual Conference and as a member of the Council of Bishops will benefit the church as a whole. Martin’s words following his election were prayerful and inspiring, and in the following break, Methodist music rock star Mark Miller took over the piano and the conference enjoyed an impromptu hymn sing. At the service of consecration for Bishops McLee, Webb, and Steiner-Ball, I wept copious and happy tears.
The lows of the conference for me had a lot to do with the lack of fulfillment of those dreams I had named. I did not find the worship and bible study time to be spiritually nourishing, and left the room nearly every time we sang, because the hymns were so loaded with noninclusive language and poor theology. I was jarred by the bible studies, particularly the one the last morning, which featured a couple of images that were triggers for me (pregnancy/child loss and weapons, not things that put me in a very worshipful mood).
More importantly, I failed to see us use our time for holy conferencing. While we passed one piece of legislation affirming ministry with GLBTQ persons and allies in the northeast, we did not have any fruitful conversation on that or any other topic, in my opinion. I had hoped in that earlier blog post that the discernment around episcopal nominees would allow us to “spend huge amounts of time asking ourselves: what are the needs of the United Methodist Church in our region as we seek to live out God’s calling for us, and what sort of leaders and leadership can help us get there?” I didn’t see or hear that conversation anywhere. I know we had a lot to do, with 19 candidates to interview all in one day. But the conference is made up of less than 300 delegates (277 to be precise, a number burned in my brain by our 30+ ballots…). There should be time over meals or in and around legislative sessions to be intentional about gathering outside of our annual conferences, to connect with others in our region, and dialogue about what we might be looking for in episcopal leaders or people to serve on boards and agencies (without campaigning!), or to discuss the particulars of being United Methodists in ministry in the northeast. I’d love to see us use our time very intentionally, to create connection that can break down barriers and ease some of the distrust that many people lifted up coming out of the conferencing session.
I’m not sure how Jurisdictional Conference sessions are put together, but I am interested in creating greater space for conversation and connection in 2016. Thoughts?
The DreamUMC conversation is more than two months old, and growing in some exciting ways. We are putting words and ideas to action, and finding new partners across denominational lines.
Coming out of the 2012 General Conference, many delegates, volunteers, and folks who had followed the proceedings from afar looked for a way to continue a broad conversation about the United Methodist Church and the directions into which God is calling us. Using the social networking platform of Twitter, we created space for this communication through the account @DreamUMC and the corresponding hashtag #DreamUMC. The central goal is to have the communication and vision building be as open, grassroots, and participatory as possible. We fundamentally believe that there is something inherently Methodist about seeking out, listening for, and valuing every voice, rather than assuming direction comes from the top. Sometimes—often, even!—the Spirit speaks boldly through the people one might least expect.
Every two weeks, Monday nights at 9 Eastern, we have participated in moderated Twitter chats or “tweetups,” where people follow the same hashtag at the same time, and respond to discussion questions. Three separate people from two different Jurisdictions have moderated the chats, and participation has been strong, with the number of people tweeting declining, but the number of new tweets and secondary level questions increasing as the conversation goes deeper. The chats are archived on a Facebook page so that people who can’t tune in at that time can read the questions and responses later. Often, one or more person summarizes the conversation (here’s one of my early summaries) for people to read.
Challenges and Benefits
Certainly there are challenges and drawbacks to this method; not everyone is able to use Twitter and Facebook or comfortable in those platforms. Our conversations have been tipped toward United States based individuals (although we have several participants who sign in from Europe or Africa), and most popular in those under 40 (although there are again many active participants who are young at heart if not in years). Overcoming these limitations to being inclusive with respect to age, geographic, and socioeconomic status remains a top priority.
The benefits and advantages are stunning, however.
One might expect the conversation to be monolithic theologically, or to point to particular polity positions. This has not been the case. In the open conversation forum, participants have voiced widely diverging opinions, beliefs, and positions, and returned to engage with one another two weeks later. Sharing insights, the people tweeting have offered up a wide range of creative, forward-thinking ideas on a range of topics from the major lessons of General Conference to the need for theological and spiritual formation in local churches, from the essential qualities of an episcopal leader to spreading the message and model of DreamUMC’s open-source conversation.
Focusing the conversation
With people weighing in from around the United States and around the world, both during the chat and on their own time, the folks of DreamUMC have begun to identify key areas of focus for conversation and action moving forward, including building toward a United Methodist Church that is more connected to its Wesleyan heritage, has a stronger focus on discipleship and development, more inclusive, and more equitable globally. For weeks, we have discussed the need for education and formation in local churches, and for the development of lay and clergy leadership at all levels of the church. We have also heard frustration about the divisions, exclusions, and process-related technical details that keep us from being as effective as we can be in mission and service (like debating almost all critical topics using Robert’s Rule of Order rather than living into a more open and holy conferencing style).
These areas of interest are exciting to think about as the conversation continues. The plan is to invite participants to place themselves on one or more teams and work intentionally around these topics, while continuing the wider discussion about the United Methodist Church as a whole, and where the Spirit is leading us in the months and years ahead. For a full list of the topics we’ve lifted up, or to add a topic that should be included, please visit the DreamUMC Facebook poll.
Ecumenical dreams unfolding
One of the most exciting developments in the DreamUMC movement is not limited to the UMC. At the recent Presbyterian Church, USA General Assembly, a conversation began on Twitter that was very similar to the conversation that we had experienced at our General Conference. One United Methodist, following the PCUSA tweets, mentioned this similarity, inviting the participants there to peruse the conversations that we’d been having through DreamUMC, and suddenly @WeDreamPCUSA / #DreamPCUSA was born (you can read Rev. Andy Oliver’s perspective on the launch of this sister movement here).
Within days, new hashtags and user accounts popped up for other denominations, including the United Church of Christ (@DreamUCC and #dreamucc), the Episcopal Church (#Acts8), the Disciples of Christ (#dreamccdoc) and a broader ecumenical gathering, @MainlineDreams / #MainlineDreams. Together, we’ve begun to think of ourselves as a movement not unlike the “Arab Spring,” in the term Andy coined as the “Mainline Summer” (there’s a short summary of the known movements so far here by Rev. Emily Heath).
Dreams carry forward
My personal hope for this wider movement is well stated by Emily when she calls for a “new chapter in mainline Christian renewal.” That’s what we’re talking about here: reconnecting to the things that make us Christian, that give us power and purpose as the Body of Christ, and that inform and shape us in our various theological and historical foundations. In talking with a friend from another denomination this morning, we reflected that the ecumenical movement has historically focused on either mergers or, more typically, on sharing in mission. What if this time, we focused on a different kind of mission: to reclaim and reinvigorate mainline Christianity, to engage with a culture hungry for meaning and purpose and connection, and to offer what the church as a whole has found in Christ, trusting that individuals will flock to the particular and distinct denominations with which they best resonate? Can we, this summer, this year, at this season in the church, open a conversation at all levels and in all places, hearing, discerning, and sharing where God is calling the Christian church into a new and more relevant, vital, connected future?
After an early summer hiatus of laziness self care, I’m getting ready to head out next week to the 2012 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference.
Jurisdictional Conferences– those regional gatherings of delegates from several annual conferences– are like the poor, forgotten middle children in some weird family, who actually are the ones holding the whole system together and taking none of the credit. I think. We all love Annual Conference, with the blessing of seeing friends and colleagues from one’s close connectional ties once a year (okay I love it). And everyone gets the scope of General Conference, with delegates from all over the world gathered together once every four years to discuss and vote on The Big Issues that impact The Future Ministry of the Church.
But those little Jurisdictional Conferences? What are they good for? That’s where we set a couple of regional budgets, and elect bishops. Nothing exciting.
Except I’m really excited.
Because I think Jurisdictional Conferences could actually be kind of radical.
Following General Conference, I helped create and facilitate an opportunity for ongoing conversation about the United Methodist Church and the directions into which God is calling us, DreamUMC. Through that online conversation, we’ve been talking about ways to live into grassroots movement, deeper Wesleyan spiritual formation, more authentic and inclusive Christian Community, and more relevant action in the church and the world. I’ve become convinced that Jurisdictional Conferences offer an opportunity to do this.
Jurisdictional Conferences are smaller in number than the gatherings at either an Annual Conference or a General Conference session. There will be about 250 delegates at the Northeast JC. This seems like a perfect number of people to me– large enough to share a variety of ideas, but small enough to get a chance to talk to just about everyone, and form meaningful connections and create or strengthen the relationships that are at the heart of Christianity in the Wesleyan tradition.
This smaller size should allow JCs to function with greater agility and to tackle challenges more creatively. Yes, I know; we’re still the church and being agile isn’t exactly our strong suit. That’s why I said should. But the potential is there.
With geographic regions larger than an Annual Conference, but smaller than, you know, the whole world, Jurisdictional Conference sessions can be opportunities to think about and strategize for regionally contextual ministry, which is something the church desperately needs as we live into the future of mission and ministry wherever we are.
Jurisdictional Conferences do have the opportunity to pass legislation together, and should be able to give this legislation some careful thought (again, should). I know of a couple of pieces coming before our gathered body that I’m interested in, one dealing with the structural makeup of the church at its various levels (trying to address some of the problems of power imbalance we saw at GC2012), and one speaking to the need to be in more faithful ministry with and as GLBTQ persons in the Northeast.
Finally, yes, Jurisdictions elect and place both board members and bishops. That means we should spend huge amounts of time asking ourselves: what are the needs of the United Methodist Church in our region as we seek to live out God’s calling for us, and what sort of leaders and leadership can help us get there? I don’t know about you, but I find that to be an exciting question!
So as I prepare for the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference, I’m looking forward to a time to connect as Methodists in relationship and vision, thinking and praying about ministry in a regional way, taking bold steps together, re-imagining leadership and direction, living into a bold, outside-the-box commitment to follow the Spirit’s movement wherever She is leading us, and selecting and equipping the lay and clergy leaders that the UMC needs for the mission and purpose ahead.
I’ve been a bad blogger, and my technology has been very very bad.
Right now, I am unable to upload my sermon from Sunday, 6/3. I’m not sure what the problem is, but I hope to have it online soon.
In the mean time, I am headed out to New England Annual Conference session. You should be able to check for news & updates from the conference here. I don’t believe we will be live-streamed, but if we are I will pass along the link.
And you can of course follow me on Twitter (@pastorbecca), where I will be tweeting the conference with the tags #neumc and #umcac
We had our first Twitter Chat for #DreamUMC, the conversation born out of the strong desire to keep shaping the future of our denomination in the wake of General Conference. You can read the full archive of the chat here, or you can view bullet points of answers to the questions we discussed (and some unofficial demographic info) at the facebook page.
First of all, wow! There were 171 people tweeting, and many many more I know who were “lurking,” or as I call it, actively listening. We sent 1,272 tweets, not including retweets. That’s a lot of conversation in an hour! Although dominated by younger voices, the conversation spanned generations, came down fairly even on gender representation, included voices of clergy, laity, and folks between the two, and crossed the U.S. pretty well. We have some work to do yet on inviting the voices of persons of color and reaching out to hear our siblings in the movement from around the world. But there is a lot of energy for movement and hope in this body.
Especially as the conversation got started, what was amazing to me was the passion of the participants. Here, ten days after General Conference ended, people were still filled with pain, regret, brokenness, and grief. Here, despite the brokenness and raw pain, people were still filled with vision and hope and excitement for the future of the United Methodist movement. Such deep pain and deep joy, woven together often in the same person, speaks volumes for the vibrancy and heart of the UMC. As the conversation concluded, the call to continue and progress in our work together was overwhelming and joy-filled. I have rarely felt more in the presence of the Holy Spirit doing a new thing, and never while staring at pixels on a screen.
Reflecting on the conversation, I want to try to synthesize what I heard. We asked three questions, and some themes emerged from the responses.
Question 1: What did you learn/take away from General Conference 2012?
In response to this question, this is where I experienced a lot of pain and brokenness. Many tweets lifted up a new or renewed understanding of our division as a denomination, and several spoke directly about lack of trust. One person wrote “Trust issues abound and we have no idea how to heal them.” Others spoke of the power imbalance in the denomination, and disillusionment with this power. “Manipulation (from all parties and sides) carries more influence than Holy Conferencing.” Many tweets lamented the legislative process, and how it seems to be in the way of the true work of the Spirit and the forward movement of the church. “Movements cannot be legislated,” one wrote, and another: “it is wrong to expect reform to happen @ the structural level.”
Many people lifted up both the blessing and challenge of being a global church– or as I’ve recently had reframed for me (in this excellent post by Wes Magruder), an international church that wants to be a global church. The beauty and diversity of the global Methodist movement breaks down when we try to articulate theology and polity across radically different contexts. As one person put it, “I learned that theology is contextual and structure probably ought to be too.”
Still others took away hope from the General Conference. “God is not finished with the UMC!” was a frequent refrain. People celebrated new connections and friendships, and the sense of not being alone, in either the feeling of sorrow or the passion for ministry we share. Many celebrated the desire for change and the opportunity for conversation and hope. Much as we may try to Methodologize (think I made that up) our movement, that doesn’t stop the Holy from breaking in. As one person wrote: “even when we think all hope is gone, the Spirit has a tendency to show up and surprise us!”
Question 2: How has this new knowledge changed your Dream (vision or hope) for the United Methodist Church?
The next time I am feeling discouraged about the state of the world in general or the church in particular, I promise myself that I will read through these answers again, or just ask a fellow dreamer to tell me their dream for the UMC. These answers were beautiful. Still much pain laced through them, but such amazing and faithful dreams.
Broken dreams were named: “I’m struggling to see how a schism will be avoided,” one person wrote. In another place, a participant would add “I think it’s already happened.” Trust issues were raised again: “I now realize that in order to move forward, we need greater trust. Far too many folks became us vs. them.”
The need for localized contextual ways of being the church was named and lifted. One person summarized this feeling well: “I have become much more in favor of regionalism/contextualism. Annual conferences and local congregations need to be unbound,” while another wrote “I wouldn’t have understood it before #GC2012, but I’m all for a US central conference now.”
Many, many of these dreams envisioned openness and inclusivity for all people, some naming especially the GLBTQ community, but many leaving a wide-open statement– regardless of any division. “I am now even more passionate and committed to building relationships across cultures and other barriers…without agenda,” one participant wrote. Another said, “I (continue to) dream/hope that the UMC will be UNITED, but in our diversity, not just our name.”
The dreams included a deep need for personal transformation and formation as disciples, and the hope that personal transformation would expand out into a transformed way of being and relating to one another. “It has made me more determined to teach Wesleyan theology, more determined to share Wesleyan formation, less fearful,” said one tweeter, while another wrote that we need “less ‘fixing,’ more constructive listening and discerning what a holy life and life together may be.”
In this part of the conversation, one person wrote that General Conference convinced them to go all-in and seek ordination, to get deeply into the system and work for change. Another wrote that GC convinced them to abandon the ordination track and fully embrace and claim the power of lay leaders within the church for transformation. It struck me as wonderful that both articulate a sense of transformation and purpose and calling, and it highlights for me that the call to ministry has to do with our gifts and passion, not our titles or position on the laity-clergy spectrum.
Question 3: What’s one achievable change that would make the UMC a bit closer to the church you dream about?
Here the conversation was at its most powerful for me, as people’s passion was channeled into positive, practical visioning. What I learned is that there are lots of people who see the same way forward I do (I think it has a lot to do with contextualizing our theology and practice, through some form of national or regional central conferences for the U.S.), there are many people who have other or additional creative ideas for transformation. Nothing gives me more hope than passionate people who also can think proactively.
There were many cries for a U.S. Central Conference, something for which I’ve never heard a huge groundswell of support before. But as I mentioned earlier, the tension of trying to live globally (not internationally) amid massive cultural differences really tied our hands and hearts at this conference. One person put it this way: “A US Central Conference free to set our own standards around the issues that divide the global church. That is it.” Another wrote, “Ditto, US central conference. &, quit trying to motivate US church w fear. Motivate w love (good news).”
Many spoke to the need for refocused ministry efforts at the “church” level, and one person emphasized that we need to “expand our idea of ‘church’ to include non-conventional forms of ministry (campus ministry, non-profits, on tap groups, etc).” Another sumarized this need, saying: “invest in the local church, focus less on ad campaigns and expensive meetings and more on the work of the people.”
Still more voices lifted up the need for justice-seeking local ministries: “quit trying to legislate for holiness and rather emphasize social holiness,” said one, and another, “go back to some of our roots of leading social change instead of following it.”
I was especially heartened by the numbers of people describing a need for deeper theological education and spiritual formation at all levels of the church. One participant wrote of the church’s need for “much more serious commitment to Wesleyan theological education. We need more curriculum based on theology AND context.” Another put it this way: “new emphasis on practical theology at local & general church level, a theology of ‘doing’ church-aka being the body of Christ.” This theological formation– from the grassroots up, not the top down!– impacts our entire way of being as a movement. Said one individual: “Return to Wesleyan tradition. more local autonomy, more Lay leadership, prevailing GRACE, full inclusion, I could go on.”
Very practical, short term suggestions called for the elimination of dashboard metrics tools: “Dashboards (obsession only with the quantitative) creates a distorted view of kingdom building that is consumer driven.” Others called for term limits for bishops and for delegates to General Conference. And of course, there was a call to reinstate the Conference Cookies.
One participant invited us to dream up “a radically different way to do GC2016. I have no idea what that looks like, but we need to start imagining now.”
Many goals were personal and connectional, speaking to the heart of what Methodism is, in my opinion. Some were general: “Encourage more collaboration & working together rather than fighting against each other.” Others much more personal: “I’d really like to be in meaningful conversation with our sisters and brothers in Central Conferences.” Still others focused on the #DreamUMC conversation itself as a place where change needs to happen: “reach out to my CC friends and people of color to make sure that the tweet chat has a wider range of voices.”
One person concluded with a simple goal, “Stop worrying about our fears….just do ministry….” I’ve found that at any level of ministry, this is the best advice.
Conclusion & Looking Ahead
For many of us, this conversation was only the beginning. As the hour drew to a close, people expressed joy and hope through the process, “It’s like a Holy Spirit wave!” one person wrote, and I agree. Another person wrote that Twitter gave them a whole new understanding of Pentecost, and I can’t help but see how much of this conversation, and the form in which it is happening, will shape my sermon for that holiday next week. I concluded the time feeling uplifted, hopeful, and heard (which is ironic, since as moderator, I kept most of my opinions to myself– a challenge for this raging extrovert). And I felt and feel deeply blessed to be part of a church and a movement filled with so many passionate people who love and serve Christ in radical, hope-filled, life-changing ways.
We plan to chat again in two weeks, on Monday May 28th, 9 pm eastern.
And as often as we need to in order to equip ourselves, organize our thoughts, and hold one another up in grace and hope.
In the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box (from Hesiod’s Works and Days), Pandora opens a container from which all the world’s evils spill, never to be contained. But there is a glimmer of possibility, because last of all things in the box is the most powerful force: hope.
Perhaps for those of you who attended or followed General Conference with me, that’ll preach.
As my earlier posts attest, there were all manner of ills that spilled out of the box of General Conference, and by Friday morning I was counting down the hours until I could go home and plot my exit strategy from my beloved denomination. I could no longer live in a church that would silence voices, consolidate power, diminish grace, bargain away accountability, tread upon biblical interpretive lenses, and call my friends incompatible and worse.
But last out of the box, from a most unlikely place, hope.
The creative chaos that ensued after the Judicial Council struck down Plan UMC was a breath of fresh air. And we all know that breath, wind, and Spirit are the same, right? Ruah. Pastor Deb, from North Broadway UMC (a friend on Facebook) described it, saying, “Divine creation loves holy chaos. There was a Spirit of freedom in the room…” Indeed there was.
What was so perfect about that moment was that what we’d been feeling and saying all along was proven true: there actually is something inherently un-Methodist about consolidating power in the hands of a few, and people don’t tend to like big huge plans that are made without their voice and involvement, especially in a movement that was once upon a time so grassroots.
But we all agree– change is needed. And it’s clear now that this change can’t be hierarchical, can’t be made by one or two people behind closed doors, and can’t be limited to any particular group, with some token demographics thrown in. Change has to be transformational from the inside out, from the grassroots up. Change has to be transparent and invitational, with many voices at the table. Change has to be free and freeing.
And #dreamUMC was born.
All over twitter, this is what people were clamoring for. Young people, yes, but people of all ages. GLBTQ and allied people yes, but people from all demographics. Women, people of color, progressives, moderates (lovers of the Adam Hamilton Amendment, which I now call AHA), and yes, even some conservative caucasian looking males.
We all want a conversation about the future of the UMC, what it should look like, how it should be shaped, and how we get there. And we all want a voice in it. And the chaos in the void of a defunct plan gives us the space for the Spirit we need to have it.
This isn’t a young people thing. Oh sure, we’re kind of starting it, and it’s on twitter, which is our sandbox in many ways. But see, the thing is, we objected to plans that were made without our voices, so we’re not going to silence anyone else’s. And speaking as a progressive, I object to the marginalization of many unique voices; I’m not going to push aside a theologically diverse voice at this table.
Here’s where we will start: nextMonday night at 9 pm Eastern time, we will have a TwitterChat. If you’ve never done this before, you just need to sign up for twitter and search the hashtag (that’s the little # followed by word/s) #dreamUMC. You may also want to follow the account @DreamUMC (you can also “like” us on Facebook). At 9 Eastern, we will have a prayer and then ask some questions for an hour. I’ll start with something like “what did you take away from this general conference?” Over time, with monthly chats, we hope to build a conversation around what is needed for the future. We may one day craft legislation or make a motion, but for now, we want to have a conversation– a conversation as big and broad as twitter can manage.
You’re invited. Whoever you are. We are trying to build a United Methodist Church that has room and freedom for all voices, and springs from the Spirit’s leadings. If that speaks to you, come speak with us.
We have a window, a light at the end of the tunnel, a sliver of hope at the end of all other things. This is the time to dream.
I close with some of aforementioned Pastor Deb’s observations, used with her permission:
The body has taken authority and the reformation of our structure will be driven by vitality at the congregational level that is contextual and incarnational. Vital congregations cannot be legislated, or mandated, or created by statistical reporting. The Spirit has begun to empower the people.
The attempt of a few people to write a plan for the whole denomination from their social location of power and privilege has been soundly refuted. We are a connectional church, and our connectional structure worked at a very critical moment in our life.
A great deal of time and money was wasted over the past 4 years by people preparing a plan that placed too much power in the hands of too few people. There was an arrogance on behalf of those who prepared this plan, and their efforts to exclude the voices of the less powerful did not prevail.
Those who support a church that fully affirms and includes GLBT persons will begin to live in disobedience to the formal authority of the church. 40 years is long enough to wait for permission to do the right thing. The pledge many of us made to uphold The Discipline while disagreeing with it will be refuted. It is time for organized, thoughtful, sacred disobedience.
There are young leaders in this church who have a better idea for restructuring and reformation. They’re already planning to meet on Twitter, (a radically open forum) and you can expect some enabling legislation from them at the 2016 G. C. Closed door deals between powerful people will not shape the church of the future.
It is a good time to be a United Methodist. I do not think it will be an easy time. The backlash will be fierce. But I do believe that the Spirit of God, free and radical and creative, might have captured again the heart of the people called United Methodist. I pray that many will join in “occupying” the church with risk taking, bar crossing, rule breaking ministry that brings the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ to many, many new people.
I received a comment on my last post (and have received several mentions on Twitter) decrying my efforts with my colleagues as overly political, pushing an agenda, and even Machiavellian or Orwellian. My commenter wrote: “The only totalitarianism is the ‘progressive’ caucus forcing their will on the rest of the church. Disgraceful.”
Let me be clear: this was indeed a wild, crazy, political, how-the-sausage-gets-made, messy jumble. But if you’re looking for the “some are more equal than others” agenda, you are barking up the wrong side of the barn, my friends.
Make no mistake: the progressives were not the only ones caucusing, strategizing, and trying to make sure their “agenda” made it to the floor. We were not the only ones who huddled at the 4:15 break or the dinner hour. We were not the only ones who had been working for ten days to try to mold the United Methodist Church into the vision to which we believe God has called it.
We may be the only ones willing to blog about it, however.
I will not accuse my colleagues from differing theological perspectives of nasty politics. I will say however, that they had meetings out on the floor and behind closed doors. They were organized. They had powerful people and blocks of voters on their sides. They were, for nine and a half days, unstoppable. Their agenda– an agenda of silencing dissent, whitewashing minority voices, consolidating oversight (which we have learned is patently unconstitutional) and solidifying power in conservative demographics– was very clear and very much in force.
Let me share with you my agenda, particularly in the final evening, but really throughout the General Conference. I can only speak for myself, but I believe it was and is shared by many:
1. Provide for the ministries of the United Methodist Church to function well for the next 4 years. This includes equipping the general boards and agencies or whatever their successor bodies are with the resources and people they need to continue to be a vital voice and resource for our church.
2. Protect the voices of women, persons of color, the GLBTQ community (such voice as it has), and any others pushed to the margins. This includes advocating for a strong and thriving GCORR and COSROW.
3. Propose legislation that does no harm or mitigates harm. Oppose and try to prevent legislation that does harm.
4. Maintain a space in the United Methodist Church for social justice and prophetic preaching.
5. Whenever and however possible, cultivate space for all voices in the conversations, so that people are engaged in the process and the shaping of the future of their church. This includes a commitment to transparency and the honesty with which I blog about our process.
6. Stay within the proposed, smaller quadrennial budget, so as not to harm local churches in their ability to do ministry. Because…
7. In all things, remember that what GC does and how the UMC is formed matters only in so far as it equips local churches for the vital, transformational, contextual ministry they do. We have to help and not hinder churches in reaching more and more diverse people, lifting up principled and equipped leaders, being in ministry across socioeconomic, political, ethnic, gender, etc divides, and reaching out in mission to meet the needs of our global family. Or, you know, make and nurture disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the church and the world.
When Judicial Ruling 1210 was handed down at about 4:15 pm on Friday (with the General Conference scheduled to recess at 5 and then return for a two-hour legislative session before adjournment), creative chaos ensued. One of my fellow Church and Society B committee members called for a five minute recess, and a flock of progressives (it’s like a pod of whales) surrounded the communion table. One thing was clear: we had very little time to get a structure in place that would let the church function within the budget that had already been passed, eliminate inconsistencies, and keep any form of the constitutionally unsalvageable and now defunct Plan UMC from resurfacing.
After the five minute recess, the secretary announced that we would recess early for dinner, returning at 7:30, so that the calendar and agenda committee, the Council of Bishops, and other groups could figure out what needed to happen to conclude enough business that the church could move forward.
That’s when we went to work.
Our unofficial caucus group met in a large room. We did not bar the door; all were welcome. We knew other meetings were taking place, and we tried to have conversation with folks that weren’t in the room. We tried to invite representatives from all over the world, although only one international delegation ended up joining us.
Everyone spoke who wanted to. We hashed our possibilities: we couldn’t come up with a constitutionally sound plan to reorder the structure of our global denomination in two hours; there really wasn’t a way to resurrect Plan UMC and amend it into something that we could find palatable (including reinstating COSROW and GCORR); we didn’t want to simply refer Plan UMC because it had already been ruled unconstitutional and would eat up massive resources for study and amendment of a plan that we felt was fundamentally flawed (and we suspected this is what the group supporting Plan UMC would do). This left us with two options: revert to the 2008 denominational structure and somehow try to make it work in the reduced budget that had already passed, or approve the plans that the boards and agencies themselves had made to streamline and come into harmony with the initial findings of the Call to Action reports, and then save further restructure for the four years ahead. By consensus, the group decided this last was the best option.
To make that happen, several legislative things had to happen in very quick succession. The body had already approved a handful of legislation that allowed for some boards to function properly, but now had to bring up, bundle together, and approve several more pieces of legislation from the boards and agencies to enable the rest of them to have streamlined functioning, and then reconcile a few pieces that had inconsistencies.
The larger group disbanded and about ten of us wrote out the plan. I had been taking notes and began typing out an order of approach and talking points. We had an hour.
We wrote the motions for bringing up the legislation and the talking points for why it was important to do it this way: approval of the boards/agencies own plans for independent restructure allows for immediate streamlining while maintaining the functions of each body to do ministries, and leading the denomination into the necessary adaptive change that can take us through the next quadrennium with clear and thoughtful focus rather than hurried scrambling.
We anticipated that there would be a motion to bring up and refer Plan UMC. We strongly objected to this option and wrote talking points anticipating this motion: Referral would delay the option to lighten the burden on local churches because it would continue the structure at the current costs. Further, it would divert the attention, resources and energy of our boards, agencies, and governing bodies from their vital work. Basically, we could hash and study Plan UMC for four years at tremendous cost, or we could get busy making and nurturing disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
We were assured by the committee on calendar and agenda that they agreed, and that the first motion brought to the body would be a motion to consider the plans of the boards and agencies for their own restructure. We were assured this as late as 7:15, when Brad Laurvick took my laptop from my sweaty hands and ran to print and copy our motions and talking points.
Curiously, for whatever reason, that is not how it went down.
When the session reconvened at 7:30, there were people *on the stage and at the podium* who brought a motion to refer Plan UMC. I’d like to think this was a miscommunication. It felt like more than that, but we were deep in politics at that point, so I’m going to err on the side of grace and say we must have had some wires crossed.
Undeterred, our folks jumped down in the talking points and argued against referral of Plan UMC on the basis of its unconstitutionality and the numerous points that we had lifted. And we ran down the clock debating, asking questions, amending and amending. The plan was flawed and unconstitutional. It didn’t in actuality even exist as it had been struck down entirely. It could not be referred. I myself made an amendment that I thought might have helped me feel better about it: that the resulting plan be released prior to all Annual Conferences in 2015, so that those bodies would have time to look at the plan, study it, and offer amendment and suggestion. I felt this would address one of the central problems with the entire process: the lack of grassroots voices and engagement in the future of our church.
But finally it was clear that Plan UMC could not be referred or even dealt with. The presiding bishop was forced to rule that indeed a delegate from the Western Jurisdiction was right: it was unsalvageable and the attempt to refer legislation that didn’t exist was out of order.
We got to the mics. We made our motions. We approved the plans of the boards and agencies and reconciled the inconsistencies. We recessed.
Just before reconvening, I was approached by an older delegate with whom I’d served on committee, and with whom I had frequently—okay always—disagreed, Eddie Fox. Eddie is a man who I’m told had previously seemed to pride himself on using the parliamentary process to advance legislation he supports and kill legislation he does not. He was not in a good mood. Smiling but appearing pretty miffed, he wagged a finger in my face and said something like, Now young lady, I don’t want to see you making any more amendments or speeches tonight. “Why Eddie,” I said, “I want to ensure that we approve the best plan for the future of our church, and that takes time and work, and room for the Holy Spirit. And She moves in mysterious ways.” Smiling tightly and pumping my hand, he wished me safe travels and said he’d enjoyed sharing this wild ride with me (Mr. Fox contacted me in writing, and does not share this recollection of our conversation or of his demeanor or actions. As with all things published on my blog, this is my perception of what I experienced).
We reconvened, heard announcements, and suffered one last attempt to pull a petition to the floor that would have tried to make the UMC withdraw from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. I scrambled for my speech, but the motion not only failed to receive the 2/3 that it needed, but it didn’t even win a majority.
Joey Lopez, who had been an outspoken voice for inclusion, especially of young people’s voices, had the honor of making a motion to adjourn.
The Coalition met in the tabernacle one last time for communion, prayer, and celebration. Of next General Conference, one leaders said “In Portland [Oregon], we’re going to need a bigger tent!”
Then out to celebrate together with dancing and refreshments. We made a good choice of an establishment, since they were playing Heather Small’s “Proud” (what have you done today to make you feel proud? oh, so so much!) and later some Lady Gaga, and because the delightful human being behind the bar asked to see my ID. Once again, there seems to be a fear that people under the age of 21 are into buying top shelf scotch. I think we need to refer that to a committee for study. I tweeted: “Best. Day. Ever. Defeat totalitarianism. Protect uteri. Outfox Fox. Get carded in bar. #Winning.”
We celebrated together late into the night, side by side with people I have named as heroes and role models and Methodist celebrities, and with friends I didn’t know or barely knew two weeks ago.The outcome felt miraculous. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was. We’d done everything we could, but I honestly believe the Spirit pulled us through. I was just along for the ride.
Later, I summed up what I felt was accomplished to a group of friends via text message:
1. Ministry with families of all configurations
2. Almost exactly what the General Board of Church and Society (hey it still exists!) wanted to say about abortion
3. Kept the UMC in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
4. Avoided a totalitarian power structure
5. Provided basic structure for the church and its agencies to stay in mission
6. Held the line– didn’t get any worse!– on incompatibility and sexuality in the face of the most conservative General Conference ever
7. Met an amazing group of lay and clergy ministers who believe in grace, justice, and a contextually authentic church
What happens next? Where do we go from here? What does God have in store for the United Methodist Church?
I have some thoughts in the weeks ahead, but the door is wide open. It’s up to the wily Spirit, and up to us to follow where She leads us.
Friends, you heard my pain, frustration, brokenness and even some anger in my last post. The people I care about and the issues and petitions that mattered to us took terrible hits over the first nine and a half days of General Conference. Yes, we failed to change the UMC’s policy on homosexuality being incompatible with Christian teaching, but there was so much more. We’d voted on God’s grace. We’d chipped away at Methodism at its very heart.
The last day of General Conference 2012 found me very discouraged.
We had already approved Plan UMC, which was a hastily reworked version of the Call to Action IOT restructure plan and the Plan B restructure plan (but not the MFSA version of the plan), all of which sought to increase efficiency and reduce cost for the denomination by consolidating the boards and agencies. But it did so in a plan that was put together in way that was non representational and left voices disenfranchised, and it would keep on doing that.
In part, the plan that was passed was so nasty in my opinion because it consolidated representative power for the more conservative parts of our country and our globe—and they really weren’t needing any help! It also eliminated all of the Boards and Agencies of our church, including some of my favorite parts of the church—the General Board of Church and Society, the General Board of Global Ministries, the General Board of Discipleship, merging different actions of them into one board. It eliminated the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (COSROW) and the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR), two independent bodies that monitor our denomination for fairness and inclusiveness, and separately work for the needs of the people they represent. This plan merged them into a less powerful Committee on Inclusiveness, making them report to the very groups they would be trying to monitor rather than serve as independent auditors and advocates.
We’d tried two Hail Mary passes to undo the damage of Plan UMC: I had asked to wait on a final vote until we heard back the financial implications—this was supposed to be something to save us money, but I doubted it made a difference—and we had asked for Judicial Council to decide if the Plan could be implemented with a simple majority, or if such elimination of aspects of the work of our church were in fact unconstitutional.
In the mean time, we tried to fix the elimination of COSROW and GCORR and move to restore the two commissions in a lively and ultimately fruitless debate that left several of my fellow delegates in tears of frustration and anger and grief. Women, persons of color, and particularly women of color (who better than anyone understand that the effects of racism and the effects of sexism are not the same) felt entirely silenced.
By that point the church, in my mind, was dead.
We were passing through budget legislation piece by piece, and I had actually begun to simply vote no on everything. It was the only voice I had left. I was in a spirit of negativity, and I felt like nothing we decided mattered. My full intention was to go home and figure out how to get myself and my family out of the United Methodist Church as soon as possible. If I could take my church, my Annual Conference, or my entire Jurisdiction with me, so much the better. If not, it didn’t matter. This was no longer my church.
We’d voted that God’s love was extended to all by a 3% margin. We’d stepped away from our historic commitments to social justice. We’d eliminated guaranteed appointment without allowing debate. We’d silenced and marginalized the voices of women, people of color, GLBTQ persons and their allies, young people, clergy who differ theologically from the majority view in their conferences, clergy nearing retirement age, and pretty much anyone I could think of who wasn’t a middle to older age Caucasian male moderate or conservative. We had a vote coming up to alter our “quadrilateral,” radically changing the way we view the bible and all but eliminating the important dialog we hold with our tradition, reason, and experience when we interpret and apply scripture. Remember when I blogged about the reasons I wanted to remain Methodist? We’d chipped away at all of them.
We had a little victory that a lot of people didn’t recognize: the body voted to change the statement that the church was in ministry to help people in their marriages and families to say that we are in ministry with all people who are single, and in families in their various configurations. This had largely to do with how Rev. Brad Laurvick, who is now one of my favorite people on the planet, and someone with whom I am so blessed to be in ministry, framed the conversation, highlighting the importance of single persons, and family units comprised of grandparents, adoptive parents, and so on, never once mentioning family configurations that feature gay or lesbian couples. It was as if we had to trick people into being loving and grace-filled. When Brad got off the stage, I planted the world’s happiest kiss on his cheek.
Other than that, it was time to submit to the fact that the worst had happened and would continue to happen for the rest of the night. It was over. We’d been outnumbered and outgunned. We were going to lose everything. And I could hardly muster the energy to care.
At about 4:15, the Judicial Council ruling on Plan UMC came down, and in many ways, the history of the United Methodist Church changed forever. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. At least, it’s definitely what it felt like at the time. Hmm. Nope. Still feels that way.
The Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church ruled that Plan UMC was unconstitutional on at least four grounds, having to do with the distribution of power and oversight. The scathing ruling, which you can read here, stated that the Plan (and by extension the others from which it was drawn) was irreconcilably flawed and could not be salvaged into something constitutional. It was therefore struck down.
The room burst into murmurs, and a request for a recess was called. Groups hurried to huddle and try to get their heads around what this might mean. A large group of progressive delegates from various committees, but all of whom had worked tirelessly against Plan UMC, descended upon the communion table in the center of the room, where many of us had demonstrated a little over 24 hours earlier. What now? How would boards and agencies, suddenly reinstated, function? How many pieces of previously passed legislation were now in conflict? What were the most important pieces to pass now to restore some order?
The Holy Spirit had arrived in all Her glorious wily beauty.
But we all know how the Holy Spirit sees the opening of Chaos.