By Rich Peck*
TAMPA, Fla. (UMNS) –– After a morning of major addresses and after a lengthy session establishing rules for legislative processes, delegates broke into 13 legislative committees to elect officers.
After an afternoon of training, the officers will lead delegates in processing some 1,200 petitions before presentation to plenary sessions beginning Monday, April 30.
In a session that took 90 minutes longer than the scheduled time allotted, delegates approved several changes in the rules by which they will operate over the next eight days.
Some debate focused on whether various committees should be based on geographical areas or on a proportional basis. Existing rules called for one representative from each of five U.S. jurisdictions and one each from Africa, Asia and Europe. Noting the increased costs involved, delegates voted down efforts to provide additional members from larger U.S. jurisdictions and central conferences.
The Rules Committee also proposed that “any legislation not acted upon by the legislative committee at the time of the Saturday evening adjournment shall remain unfinished.” Judi Kenaston, a delegate from West Virginia argued that the new rule was not keeping faith with people who had submitted proposals, but delegates agreed to retain the rule knowing that it only takes 20 delegates to bring any petition to the full body.
On the same day that the city of Tampa announced the establishment of an area in the city that would not permit demonstrations during the Aug. 27-30 Republican National Convention, a few delegates wanted to enact legislation that would forbid demonstrations on the plenary floor of General Conference. In past conferences, the presiding officer has declared a recess to allow a brief time for demonstrations opposed to General Conference positions on homosexuality.
Delegates were assured that under present rules, no outsiders are admitted into the bar of the conference without a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules.
After electing officers for the legislative committees, delegates broke into small groups for two “holy conversations” – one on the “Foundation on Identity and Theology” and one on “Human Sexuality.” The goal of each group was not to change opinions, but to discover how persons with varying opinions can live together as brothers and sisters in Christ.
In the opening Episcopal Address, Boston Area Bishop Peter Weaver referred to the holy conversations by noting that the real connection among church members is spiritual, not political. “Before any of us had a resolution in our hands to vote on, we had a resolution in our hearts to devote ourselves to the living Christ,” he said. “The connection among United Methodists comes directly from being ‘one in Christ,’ not from agreeing on every issue that will be presented on the legislative agenda.”
In a stirring moment in the quadrennial address, Weaver introduced four teenage boys who had escaped near-death experiences when caught between genocidal conflicts between Hutu and Tutsi tribes in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Even after evacuation, rebels attacked the refugee camp where they had sought safe haven, killing 166 people, nearly one-fourth of the camp’s residents. The United Nations resettled many of the survivors and the boys came to New Hampshire, where they were welcomed by a United Methodist congregation. Weaver baptized the boys in a New Hampshire river.
The partnership of the laity in the effort to make disciples was underscored by three speakers, including Betty Spiwe Katiyo, the first person from a central conference to participate in the address.
A lay member of Inner City United Methodist Church in Harare, Zimbabwe, Katiyo likened the role of clergy and laity to a conductor and the orchestra. “A conductor of an orchestra does not make a sound — instead enlivens others to be effective. Laity are the choir who should be making the noise and clergy are the conductors. And guess what? To succeed, we need each other!”
Dr. Steven Furr, a physician from Jackson, Ala., discussed his physical transformation in losing 60 pounds as symbolic of the need for the church to be transformed.
“As part of my personal transformation, a part of me had to die so that the rest of me could live,” he said.
“Today, as we struggle to transform our lives and our churches, we must realize some things are going to have to die, some things are going to have to be left behind so that we can continue to live and thrive.
“The gym is not a place for talking. It's an action place. It's a place of transformation where our bodies are changed from one form into another. Our churches must also be places of transformation. …Truly Jesus Christ is the best personal trainer ever!”
Armory Peck from Bellingham, Wash., talked about the declared mission of the church to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
“I’m proud of us for thinking audaciously,” Peck said, “proud to be part of a church that names its mission in fearless, daring, bold and spirit-filled language. Proud that we — lay and clergy alike — overwhelmingly claimed such a vision.”
In a press conference following the Tuesday morning presentation, Peck added a surprise announcement saying that she may be the first openly practicing lesbian to participate in the laity address.
“I stood as a symbol of all LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered) United Methodists who are in our churches,” said Peck, a retired librarian and the first-elected lay delegate from her conference. She said she did not say anything in her presentation, because “the Laity Address is about bringing people together.”
Young People’s Address
Krin Ali, a member of Park Hill United Methodist Church in Denver, was on stage and Joy Eva Bohol, president of the National United Methodist Youth Fellowship in the Philippines, was taped, but together the two young United Methodists issued a challenge to their brothers and sisters around the world to be “Charged. Rooted. United.”
Bohol, from Cebu, Philippines, was denied a visa so she could not attend the session. She gave her speech on giant screens and invited delegates to raise their hands if they were seated next to a young person. Seeing few hands did not surprise Bohol or Ali.
"Youth are a minority in the church when it comes to decision making,” Ali said. “We must overcome our age differences. I look forward to a cloud of young people at the next General Conference. I hope to see every adult sitting with a young person.”
*Peck is a retired clergy member of New York Annual Conference attending his 12th General Conference, four times as editor of the Daily Christian Advocate.