By GLENN HANNIGAN
Imagine this scene.
The convention hall is packed. It reverberates with the sounds of passionate debate. The critical issue at hand is as nuanced as it is complicated. Delegates from around the world, speaking a variety of languages, are waving sheets of colored paper, seeking to be recognized and earn a turn at one of numerous microphones circling the floor. Some delegates sit patiently and wave politely. Others, desperate to be heard, stand or jump about, waving both arms vigorously.
Some of the delegates speak in favor of the proposal, others argue against it. Other delegates call for an amendment, which starts the “for” and “against” mini-speeches all over again. Some delegates call for a “point of order” and question the legitimacy of the proposal.
It is a challenge to any observer to keep up with the rapid pace of events. It is even more difficult to try to understand the finer points some of the speakers are trying to make.
Now, imagine this. You are in charge.
That is the unenviable position B. Michael Watson, the resident bishop of the North Georgia Annual Conference, found himself in Wednesday morning in Tampa.
Bishop Watson was called upon to preside over the morning session of the 2012 General Conference as it tackled the hotly-contested issue of restructuring the church.
“It is a very unique position to be in,” said Bishop Watson. “Unlike at Annual Conference, you do not know all these people and they do not all know you. Plus, you have multiple languages and very intense feelings.”
And while a rotation of bishops has been taking turns of presiding during the General Conference, it was Bishop Watson who was put in charge as delegates debated the pros and cons of an 80-page major restructuring plan better known as “Plan UMC.”
“With 1,000 people in the room, it is very difficult to pick one out of the group,” Bishop Watson said. “It is very challenging.”
Through intense and detailed arguments, Bishop Watson managed to maintain his normal relaxed, but focused, demeanor.
“I am relieved the task has been accomplished,” Bishop Watson said. “The only way you can get through that with a sense of peace is knowing that the Holy Spirit is involved.
“This is not a secular group or a political gathering. Everyone here is Christ-centered. I believe the conference can sense goodwill in the presiding officer and the presiding officer can sense goodwill in the conference.”
Despite the challenges and stress of keeping order in such a large, multi-faceted group, Bishop Watson maintains an appreciation for this quadrennial event.
“General Conference is a unique thing,” he said. “We are made up of people all over the world, varying theological persuasions and economic backgrounds. It puts us all together on an equal playing field. That is a remarkable thing. I don’t believe there is anything quite like that on the face of the earth.”
Later in the day, after Bishop Watson had turned over the gavel, the conference voted 567-384 to approve a slightly amended version of “Plan UMC” to reconfigure general agencies and downsize their boards.