Committee works late, but can't settle on plan
By Heather Hahn*
Expect to see proposals to consolidate United Methodist general agencies come before the 2012 General Conference floor this week.
The General Administration Legislative Committee adjourned almost a half-hour past its 9:30 p.m. deadline April 28 without recommending any comprehensive plan — including the two officially submitted and the unofficial plan — to restructure the agencies and downsize the agency boards of directors. Many frustrated observers called the committee proceedings a “debacle.”
“This was money wasted, time wasted; this is not the will of God,” said the Rev. Dale M. Weatherspoon, a delegate from the California-Nevada Annual (regional) Conference, at the end of the April 28 meeting. He is not a backer of a particular reorganization plan.
“We’re trying to do holy conferencing and do our best to be the best church we can be,” he said. “And that means clearly discerning God’s will; it means give and take. The last 15 minutes came down to who’s going to win and to maneuvering.”
Proponents of the Call to Action and Methodist Federation for Social Action plans — the only two that were submitted officially — can still bring their original legislation as it was printed in the Advance Daily Christian Advocate to the floor to be debated and amended, said the Rev. Alan Morrison, General Conference business manager.
Supporters of the Plan B legislation could still make a motion to the plenary session to substitute their legislation for the others.
Under the 2012 General Conference rules, the two officially submitted plans need 20 delegate signatures to be brought before the full body.
Meanwhile, proponents of the various plans have been in discussions about possible compromises. A reflection of those discussions will be printed in the May 1 Daily Christian Advocate.
Plan ups and downs
The three full days of the General Administration meetings had their share of drama, with the various plans each appearing to have the upper hand at times.
The Call to Action plan launched the conversations about restructuring and was endorsed by the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table.
But at the end of the April 26 session, a nonbinding vote found 48 to 35 favored multiple agency boards rather than the Call to Action’s proposed single board to oversee the work of multiple agencies.
The next morning, the committee, by a vote of 56 to 25, approved substituting Plan B — which consolidates only some agencies — for the petition on the Call to Action proposed restructure. The General Administration Committee then selected a subcommittee to work exclusively on reconciling the various restructuring proposals.
The 18-member subcommittee included three representatives each from the three plans, three people of color from the United States and six delegates from the central conference regions of Africa, Europe and the Philippines.
Plan B became the working document for the subcommittee. During the discussion, the Methodist Federation for Social Action representatives successfully made several amendments to Plan B.
Under the subcommittee’s final plan, most agencies survived as separate entities with 33 board members.
The three supporters of the Call to Action plan abstained throughout the subcommittee deliberations. They and fellow Call to Action leaders were already working on an amended version of the Call to Action plan to offer as a minority report before the full assembly.
By about 7:15 p.m. April 28, the subcommittee completed its work.
At that time their recommended structure was placed before the full committee.
A gallery of bishops, delegates from other committees, and agency staff now packed the back of the meeting room.
To their surprise, the full committee voted against the recommendations of its subcommittee and then voted down all other structure proposals.
By the time that the Rev. Fitzgerald "Gere" Reist came by the room to tell the committee it was past the scheduled 9:30 p.m. adjournment time, the committee still had not decided on a plan it could recommend to the plenary session.
‘God has a plan’
While the April 28 gathering left many delegates and observers dismayed, the Rev. Forbes Matonga expressed hope.
“God has a plan,” he said that night. “I think we were so divided, and there was so much insincerity while we were working. … Next week, I think we get to be sober as a church.”
Matonga has been a critic of the Call to Action process for not including any African or Filipino voices in its research and the initial development of its restructuring plan. He is director of Christian care in Harare, Zimbabwe, secretary of the West Zimbabwe Conference and member of the Connectional Table.
African delegates agree “something is wrong with this denomination,” Matonga said. However, he said, too many U.S. church members seem to be trying to manipulate the African vote.
Ronnie M. Mangune is a lay delegate from the Tarlac, Philippines Conference and a first-time delegate. He was a member of the restructuring subcommittee. He also expressed faith that God will guide the deliberations of the delegates.
"No matter how people respond, at the end of the day, God will help the church,” he said. “God says, ‘Do your best; I’ll do the rest.’”
*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.
News media contact: Heather Hahn, (813) 574-4837 in Tampa, Fla., through May 4; after May 4: (615) 742-5470 in Nashville, Tenn., or firstname.lastname@example.org