With annual conference just a week away, along with the elections that take place every four years (a quadrennium), it may be helpful to review a few approaches to the voting process. First timers may feel like many Americans when they see their first Cricket game--baffled about what is going on and perhaps wondering "why?"
What follows is not meant to place a value judgment on any aspect of the process nor is this meant to be an exhaustive primer. This is simply an attempt at a quick unbiased overview for any new folks among us. Most of the following is common to both laity and clergy who vote separately but in regards to the same issues.
Some folks are focused on the first person elected. The first elected persons--lay and clergy--lead the delegation. One quadrennium the first elected layperson will be the Delegation Chair. The next quadrennium it will be the first elected clergy person, and back and forth. Leading the delegation is much more than a figurehead role. It requires deep dedication to multi-faceted tasks, ex-officio seats on more boards and committees than I can list here. The Delegation Chair needs long experience in leading groups and an ability to build consensus and networks. This year the first elected clergy person will lead the delegation to both the 2012 General and Jurisdictional conferences.
Order of Election:
A few are concerned about the order of election. The election ranking, first through last, is a vital factor for those seeking to sit on specific committees at the global gathering next April in Tampa. Some committees face and deal with bigger and more critical issues than others or have longer range ramifications than others. The whole matter of assignment to committees is a strategic consideration for the overall direction of the entire delegation. Committee assignments for General Conference usually are assigned by order of election; first elected first choice, second elected second choice, etc.
General Conference is two weeks long. The first week is primarily committee work in break-out rooms near or around the main convention hall. Legislation is hammered out in these small groups before it goes to the floor for action, which is more of what constitutes the second week. (If you want to visit this event, which is highly recommended, visit during the second week rather than the first.) Committee work can be long suffering and at times seem trivial and even boring, but in fact, it is in these various side rooms where the stage is set for what legislation is placed before the general session.
Jurisdictional Episcopal Committee:
Some are thinking in terms of who will sit on this critical committee. Just as our local churches have pastor parish committees, our conferences have conference episcopal committees. They function pretty much the same (there is also a similar body for District Superintendents.) However, PPR committees don’t make appointments, the Cabinet does. So who makes assignments of Bishops? The Jurisdictional Episcopal Committee does.
This Jurisdictional Episcopal Committee (JEC) is composed of the first elected lay person and first elected clergy person from each conference within the jurisdiction. There are 15 conferences in our Southeast jurisdiction, which means there are 30 people, half laity and half clergy, placed on that influential body who serve four years.
(One calendar notation is helpful here; those two persons first elected to the Jurisdictional Episcopal Committee for the 2008-2012 quadrennium didn’t start their four year term on the JEC until August of 2008, which was after the Episcopal elections of July 2008, and they serve through the episcopal elections of July 2012. Those elected this year will not assign Bishops until 2016. This arrangement allows the committee four years to prepare, pray, converse, and plan before they are called to make episcopal assignments. The lay and clergy person elected first for the coming quadrennium will be the ones representing us in the episcopal assigning process of 2016.)
Voting the Issues:
Issues can be a determinative factor in how a person votes as well. Voting for those persons who can be counted on to always stand on one side of a matter or another can make a difference for some.
Note that ’representative’ is a word often used in regards to our elected ‘delegates.’ Our Book of Discipline calls for us to send “delegates who will think and let think.” Delegates have the honor and responsibility of voting as God leads rather than to simply reflect the desires of the voters who elected them. Holy conferencing within any Christian group discussion (but especially at General and Jurisdictional Conferences) assumes a mind and spirit open to God’s leading. Delegates are blessed with both the opportunity and the obligation to listen, think, and act according to leading of the God’s Spirit. Delegates are trusted to follow God’s leading as their primary motive in all they do on our behalf.
Many are aware of this aspect of the voting and it gives some a way to think through their choices. The delegation, once elected, has the opportunity to place one (or more, or none) clergy in the role of being the primary nominee to the episcopal election at Jurisdictional Conference, an event held at Lake Junaluska in North Carolina just a few months after General Conference.
Who is eligible to be elected to the conference delegation from the clergy?
Every clergy person eligible is assigned a number that will be used in the election process. This number will be provided at annual conference and it’s the only thing you need to know to vote for the persons you feel best address your approach to the development of the delegation. If a person doesn’t have a number it usually means they are not eligible for election.
Who is eligible to be elected to the conference delegation from the laity?
Laity have a specific procedure to identify and elect persons to the conference delegation. With over 1,400 lay members representing nearly 360,000 people in our local churches, the laity print a booklet of persons who desire to be considered and are willing to publicly identify their interests as a way of assisting the laity in considering who they want to vote for.
Voting for individual lay persons is done with assigned numbers each time a ballot is taken. For laity there are two ways to get a number. The first is to be included in the laity booklet where a specific number is listed along with each person’s bio. The process of getting listed in the booklet is open to all eligible laity. A second way to get a number is for any lay person in good standing to receive at least 10 write-in votes on any given ballot.
Complex or Simple?
As you can see, the entire voting matter is something to be approached prayerfully and thoughtfully. There are many layers to the election and because one layer or another may appeal to different persons, it can be challenging to the inexperienced to know what is happening and what the ramifications may be as each ballot is taken and reported. The approaches I have lifted up are not the sum total of the issues, but enough to give a sense of what leads some to do what they do as they vote.
The election of delegates is sometimes dismissed as “politics for those who want to politic”; but the delegation does a great deal of important work and is worthy of prayerful discernment. If there is a time to rise up and think for oneself, this is a good place to dig in. The delegation is a body of people who have authority and influence in critical areas of the church over four years. They deserve to know that each was prayerfully and thoughtfully elected and confidence has been shown in who they are as they lead us into the world as a church deeply rooted in the Christian faith. In the end, we trust that the Counselor Spirit will have ready access to each person ‘making pencil marks on ballots’ and that what is right, good, and true, will carry the day.