“Why can’t General Conference be about shared worship and learning to speak lovingly to one another?” I have heard that question lifted up often as a beautiful dream that will probably never come true.
Well it is more than just a dream. It is exactly how General Conference 2016 began with worship and the celebration of holy communion in a manner that brought diverse voices, languages, ages, cultures, and musical styles together to lift up the unity we find through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and our shared mission to make disciples. Despite its diversity, our worship service did not seem disjointed or forced. It felt natural, reverent, and passionate.All services of Christian worship seek to help us catch a glimpse of God’s holiness that would help us worship God with our lives at all times. The opening worship at GC 2016 did just that. It showed us a vision of God’s gracious presence and our ability to love, respect, and work together for the sake of the Gospel across all barriers that might divide us.
Sadly, there was a protest during communion at which time a group came and offered an alternative communion station out of their desire to see more inclusion of the LBGQT community in the UMC. While I respect the right of folks within our fellowship to protest in ways that are not disruptive to the proceedings, it saddens me when anyone chooses to take attention away from communion to do so.
Next, we spent time in cultural sensitivity training focusing not on learning to be politically correct, but rather on learning to honor one another. We did not make “Christian Conferencing” just a buzz word that we say without every trying to implement. We focused on it intentionally for as much time as we could on the first day and another 2 hours of more intense training are planned for tomorrow.
Knowing our commitment to Christian conferencing and well aware that even with our utmost commitment we will conference imperfectly, we began our work by debating the standing rules that will guide our conversations.
Per our current standing rules all amendments to the rules are referred to the committee on standing rules to consider and bring back their recommendation to the body for debate and vote within 24 hours. (By the way, if you don’t like reading about obscure parliamentary procedure skip to the last 2 paragraphs of this blog now for a succinct sports analogy summarizing day 1.)
An amendment made to ask the committee to consider removing Rule 44 from our standing rules. (For more about Rule 44 and the other standing rules, please see my previous blog post What Actually Happens At General Conference.). For reasons noted above, the debate on removing Rule 44 will take place tomorrow.
Then as the remaining rules were about to be passed and delegates were about to adjourn for the evening at 6:30pm, unnecessary parliamentary questions and the manner in which they were handled led to another session from 8pm-9:30pm being added to the today’s schedule which puts delegates at the disadvantage of being less well rested at the beginning of an intense two weeks of work which requires their best efforts. (All this despite the valiant effort of Holston’s own Del Holley who spoke eloquently and appropriately regarding the standing rules on the floor of the General Conference.)
Finally, the standing rules (Rules 1-33) were passed with the exception of Rule 44 which will be debated tomorrow. An attempt was also made to ask the committee to remove Rule 12 & Rule 18 from the standing rules due to language within those rules that prohibits disruptions during General Conference sessions. This attempted was defeated and Rule 12 & Rule 18 were passed along with the rest.
To summarize GC 2016 Day 1 in athletic terms, we had a great practice (worship), a wonderful game plan (Christian Conferencing), and then when the game (debate on the standing rules) started we totally forgot everything we had practiced and planned. So we had to call a quick timeout to regroup.
The bad news is we already have to climb out of the hole we dug. The good news is that it is still early in the first quarter and we still have time to get our act together.