A New Vision, A New Voice ~ The North Texas Conference
General Conference: Lay Delegates Richard Hearne and Linda Parks Give Their Takeaways
By Richard Hearne
Lay Delegate to General Conference
When all the delegates left Portland, Oregon, on May 21, 2016, I came away with a small amount of hope for the future of The United Methodist Church.
The first week was not very promising with a great amount of distrust between the delegates and the Council of Bishops. The first day and a half was consumed by debating the standing rules of the General Conference, how to use the iPads at each table to get recognized to speak or how to use the voting machines. The proceedings deteriorated to the point of a delegate asking that a presiding bishop be removed from the chair. It seemed as if no one was really listening to anyone else.
The first ray of hope appeared when the Rev. Adam Hamilton of Church of the Resurrection — the biggest United Methodist church in the U.S. — stood and asked the bishops to take the lead in finding a way forward on human sexuality.
Until then, we seemed headed toward a series of votes that would maintain the status quo on human sexuality and, as a result, a mass demonstration by supporters of full inclusion. When the bishops finally accepted the assignment to find a way forward and human sexuality petitions were taken off the table, a sense of hope prevailed in the convention center.
We were then able to conduct business on other petitions that would have never come to the floor otherwise. That was a second ray of hope.
In essence, we did not do any more harm because no vote was taken on the human sexuality petitions, and we really did no good because nothing changed — a third ray of hope.
So I do have hope. Hope that the bishops, in their relatively small group, will be able to speak for The UMC and find a way forward. A way that allows our traditional friends to stay in a denomination that allows some latitude with human sexuality — some words of encouragement for our progressives, allowing them to minister to their congregations and that might (should) include the right to perform marriages for same-gender people without fear of a church trial.
Without this leadership by the bishops, I fear that our denomination is on an unavoidable path toward a split. Without compromise, we will not be able to survive under The UMC umbrella. I hope this does not happen.
Most important is that this does not affect most of our UM churches. I believe that most of the radical middle — a term created by Bishop Scott Jones — will stay in ministry in their current local churches. My hope is that all of you will stay active in the local church.
We are blessed in the North Texas Conference to have a committed bishop in Mike McKee, a wonderful conference staff, hardworking pastors and a dedicated laity. We are more than these issues on human sexuality.
The theme of General Conference was Therefore Go. That is my hope for all of us — that we go and “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” from Bogata to Burkburnett.
By LINDA PARKS
Lay Delegate to General Conference
Attending my church the Sunday following General Conference, I was bombarded by one singular question, “How was General Conference?”
I was asked repeatedly as I went from Sunday school to worship and then to Bible study later in the week. How do you put something that only occurs once every four years, lasts for two weeks and is packed with all sorts of experiences in a brief few words?
By now I’m sure most of you have already read summations from various writers and bloggers. General Conference 2016 has been dissected from every direction and position. Much has been written about the conference’s historic request of the Council of Bishops, asking them to lead our church forward during this time of “both great crisis and great opportunity.”
Some people say nothing was accomplished. But action in some form was taken on most of the 1,000 petitions submitted to General Conference.
A new cloud-based hymnal project got the green light. Twenty-nine missionaries were commissioned to be sent out into the world. A budget of $604 million was approved for 2017-2020. Through generous giving, United Methodists are making a difference in saving lives through our health initiative by raising $65.5 million to eradicate malaria in Africa. And the list goes on.
I told folks inquiring about General Conference that “it was interesting.” Then I told them it was two weeks of emotional highs and lows. Then I had to decide: Do I want to focus on the low points or on the hope? On the plane ride home, I chose to leave General Conference with a message of hope and encouragement.
The stories we share should to be of lives being changed, communities transformed and the love of Jesus Christ shared with people living on the margins. I choose to talk about how we United Methodists help millions and dream about what’s next. We are about so much more than any one issue.
The Bishops’ response “An Offering for a Way Forward” creates a diverse commission to examine and possibly propose revising the Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. I am optimistic with the response and believe all are sincerely committed to a way forward.
After experiencing the Bishops’ presentation, debate and finally the vote to adopt the Bishops’ proposal, it is apparent change will happen. Exactly how is not clear. But change is going to come.
Each morning our delegation met early for reports and updates. Our meetings began and usually ended in song. On the last day, we sang “When the Founder of Creation” text by John Thornburg. I want to leave you with the last line of this song and ask that you include it in your prayers for our Church, the bishops and the commission as a way forward:
“Lead us to a brilliant future. Paint the vision, Lord, we pray.”
Even in change, I choose to believe God is not finished with us yet.
What vision will you choose?