Every four years (known as a quadrennium), The United Methodist Church gathers delegates elected from each of its annual conferences around the world in order to worship, share and re-order ourselves for the purpose of how we might be the best witness to Jesus Christ in the world for the next four years.
As United Methodists, we order ourselves around biblical principles that are codified as rules with which we covenant to abide that are known as The Book of Discipline. These rules may stipulate how we care for our property or treat our staff. They line out the process for becoming ordained as clergy. They offer guidance for social matters in secular society. They organize how bishops are elected and function. They provide checks and balances so that power is shared with clergy and laity alike. The rules provide for reviews and accountability for when a perceived injustice is committed.
This time, the General Conference will be held in Portland, Oregon from May 10-20. Seven clergy and seven laity were elected from the Oklahoma Conference to serve as our delegation and I was fortunate enough to be the fifth clergy elected. I first served in 2004 when we went to Pittsburgh and I was elected as a Juridictional delegate which also serves as an alternate to General Conference. This means that we can sub in to vote for one of the General delegates since the conference lasts around 10 days. I served again as a Jurisdictional delegate in 2008 in Forth Worth and then as a General delegate in 2012 in Tampa.
|Here I am speaking to the membership issue|
at the 2008 General Conference. You can see by
the body language of the other delegates
that I have them enthralled!
I’ve written legislation for our Discipline, some of which has passed and more which hasn’t. One of the pieces had to do with church membership. I argued that laity should have the final say on whether or not they could join a church. The current rule is that the senior pastor is the final deciding factor and may choose to deny membership to a person seeking to join the church. There is the sense from caution that there might be circumstances where for the sake of the congregation’s protection, membership should be denied. I feel that if we are truly witnesses of God’s grace, this extends to all people and that the Body of Christ should be strong enough to overcome any problems or baggage that people may bring with them.
Other legislation I presented had to do with our online presence as a denomination. I would still like to see the Discipline available for free online. Amazingly, we are not there yet.
It is likely that we will argue over issues of human sexuality as has been the case for the last forty-four years. My own position has been to err on the side of grace rather than judgment. My prayer is that our denomination will be a stronger witness to faith in Christ than before. I believe that our Wesleyan understandings of grace speak quite rationally to a world that seems ever more resistant to listen to the Gospel message.
I would appreciate your prayers not only for me but for all of those serving in Portland. If you would like to watch the proceedings online, you can do so here. Worship and preaching will be good and you can access the schedule in this pdf file (pages 8-12) here. Floor debate will begin on Monday, May 16. What is important to remember when you see United Methodists come at an issue from different angles is that we all love God and want the church to succeed. We simply have differing ideas on how we best do that as a church. So you see, the General Conference is not so much different than the local church today or from the early church viewed from the letters of Paul!