When talking about serving on the delegation to the General and Jurisdictional Conferences, my friend Don Renshaw would always say, “The honor is getting elected – but then you have to serve.” Don is so right. It was an honor to be elected a delegate last June at Annual Conference. It has been informative and joyful to attend the monthly meetings to prepare for General Conference. Several weeks ago, the delegates received their DCAs, three books about six inches thick with all the information about the General Conference and the petitions that will be presented to the various committees.
It is a task to read through all those petitions, looking for the nuances of words that have great impact on the results. I learned some time ago the difference of “may” or “shall” when it comes to these issues. We’ve also looked closely at those who will be serving with us on our committees, and for many of us (this is my third General Conference) it is an opportunity to renew friendships. Now the time for the General Conference is less than a month away, starting April 24 in Tampa, Fla. It runs for 11 intense days of involvement in church matters before adjourning May 4.
The first week is devoted to committee work in which petitions are reviewed, reworked and voted out of committee as a majority report to go to the plenary session. There is also an opportunity for a minority report to be presented to the plenary session if enough committee members sign on.
The second week is devoted to the plenary session, in which the petitions are debated. This is where it really gets interesting because, with the motions and amendments, a delegate must really pay attention and have a good knowledge of Roberts Rules of Order to keep up. Sometimes the wording can be deceiving – a delegate intending to vote for a petition may actually vote against it. This, coupled with the long hours of the day and short hours of the night, can make keeping informed difficult. Each morning, there is a consent calendar in which petitions that passed in their committees by more than 90 percent can be accepted on a voice vote.
Although much of our time is spent in this administrative wilderness, we have some wonderful worship experiences. Choirs from around the world sing, and we have great preaching from our bishops. Your North Texas Conference delegation will report back to you via a blog and other media to keep you informed of what is happening. You can also contact us with any special concerns. What we need from you is prayer. Please pray every day of the General Conference for your delegation and The United Methodist Church. We think this is a pivotal year in the life of the UMC, and we need your support to give us the wisdom, courage and strength to do that which God is calling us to do.
Richard Hearne is Lay Leader of the North Texas Conference, which stretches from just this side of Bogata to just that side of Burkburnett. E-mail him at email@example.com.