I write this as I sit in front of my computer screen watching the streaming proceedings of the called General Conference. I had wanted to be writing this while sitting in the arena in St. Louis but I marvel at the many levels of communication and participation in this format. I am exchanging phone calls from clergy and friends who are also watching. I am messaging and exchanging notes with persons at the arena. I’m interpreting the somewhat archaic, laborious, and methodical parliamentary procedures of discussing and debating petitions, motions and amendments.
If I were in the area I might hear more of the off-camera chatter and see some of the events that are intentionally off camera, but I would be missing the phone calls and multilevel conversation. With all that said, the conference has all the weight and emotion of a divorce courtroom. Having been in both chambers before it is a pressure cooker for everyone in the room and those watching and waiting.
While it is an attempt to be a fair method of discussing and disagreeing, it can be as frustrating as watching a live YouTube DIY of paint drying, knowing they don’t have the right shade and it has to be painted over as soon as it does dry. But these activities in progress carry the weight of the denomination. So we wade through the waters together.
This Monday morning session has been confusing for the casual listener as the various pieces of legislation are being debated, amended and voted to ‘finalize’ each proposal before a final vote tomorrow. This will give the Judicial Council to review and see if the proposed changes are ‘legal’ with methods allowed by the Book of Discipline. Then they can be rejected, revised or put to a vote. Ok, so it’s confusing for all of us.
The mood of this global meeting holds the denominational assumption that by this Wednesday, some in the church will be leaving the body, over something. The words of some focus on the goal of unity, but what is it that we find unity in. Wesley invited those who disagreed in words to agree in love. One of the delegates stated that we might love each other more when we are not in the same room.
There is a scale of what will come of all this: a Good marriage, a bad marriage, a good divorce, or a bad divorce. It is obvious that we most desired would be a good marriage. This is the least likely at this moment. The most feared is would be to end a bad divorce. Can we not learn from the schism in the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and others? Those who are willing to settle for ‘unity’ a bad marriage as our best common denominator have never been a bad marriage. The papers might say we are together but the reality screams we are not.
As much as I know that dividing the church will be a financial strain, public relations nightmare and a legal circus, there are times that we reach the boundaries and are forced to decide: “is it worth breaking or backing down.”
The pieces being reviewed today are looking at the implications of proposed changes. That means that if clergy and congregation attempt to leave the denomination there will be financial comments of retirement fund responsibilities that must be paid to buy out of members. The discussion continues about Wesley’s trust clause which has held us together in many cases. If we amend the rules we open the door for other special circumstances yet to be presented.
So we steady the course in prayer, real heart prayers. For all our delegates, for those trying to stage and manipulate on both sides of the debates, for those watching on in what feels helpless anticipation, and the world ready to judge either outcome. Pray for God to speak and show up with boldness and clarity. Pray for Jesus to offer the power of salvation for sinners. Pray for the Holy Spirit to be our power and guide and not Robert’s Rules and procedures of politics. Lord make it so! Amen.