Monday, April 30, 2012


Anyone who is a member of a United Methodist Church can write a petition to go before the General Conference of the United Methodist Church.  As you can imagine, this draws a lot of petitions to us!  To the right is a picture of the petitions we received in preparation for General Conference - that's 1850 pages of petitions! They are compiled in books called the Advanced Daily Christian Advocate. Because of the sheer mass of petitions, we have to have a system to go through them.  The petitions are filtered to the  legislative committee to which they best fit, and we act on them in our committees (sometimes starting in sub-committees).  Committees then make a recommendation (often with amendments) to the floor of General Conference and that is what we act on.  The first week of GC is spent in legislative committees, the second in main plenary. Here's an idea of the space in a legislative committee:

 There were about seven-five seated delegates in the room, with a chair, vice-chair, and secretary.  This is the view from my table.
This is the view behind me.  If you see the black line, that separates the delegates from the visitors who can watch us throughout our sessions, but cannot speak.

When we are done with our legislative work, it still needs to be voted on by the entire body.  Any petition that was approved with less than ten dissenting votes is put on a consent calendar - allowing us to approve a number of petitions at once.  There are lots of ways that a petition can be pulled off the calendar to be considered separately, and that often takes up the bulk of our work during week 2.  Each day, we receive a list of all the petitions that are going to be considered, along with our schedule, and the consent calendars we will approve (this is called the Daily Christian Advocate).  Here is an example of a printed consent calendar:

Pray for us in week two as we wade through petitions and hear debate on the floor.  If you're curious to see how the process looks in real life, check out the live stream on our church's website at anytime throughout the week.

Psst.  As a side note, Emmalyn loved playing with my Advanced Daily Christian Advocates (the petitions we received before hand), and still does.  Look at her considering these petitions:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Deep Change in the UMC

One of the biggest discussions at General Conference is about restructuring the church.  This matter needs our prayer and deep attention.  In a previous post, I outlined my review and summary of the Call to Action report that was distributed in the past year.  Here, I want to talk about why the comments I’ve heard at General Conference that lead me to support it still.  I am very aware that this is a radical change for our denomination.   The more I learn about change that sticks, the more I understand that transformation does not come through rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic or even a boat that hasn’t sunk yet!  Deep Change shaped my understanding about this, and I highly recommend the book to anyone in the midst of change.  When deep change is proposed, lots of people aren’t going to like it.  In fact, lots of people flee from it.  But for organizations on the decline, it is the option.  Incremental change is just a stepping stone to death.  Deep change is crucial.

One of our leading pastors, Adam Hamilton, shared about the need our church is in.

In the past five years, our membership has declined by 5.3%. However, attendance has declined by 8.6% (that’s 291, 600 people we’ve lost in five years)!
-       We would close the NW Texas, New England, Dakota, Pacific Northwest, Florida, Kansas West, and Redbird Conference to equal this number!
-       We will last less than 50 years at the current rate of decline
The key indicators for our future are baptisms of children/confirmation for teens
-       These have declined 21% in the past five years. 
-       At this rate, in 25 years we will no longer have children or youth in our churches
-       Back in the 70s, people left because they didn’t like us.  Today, they are graduating from this life to heaven.  Over half of our members are over the age of 60. 

The primacy goal of the Call to Action is to create a more effective way of doing connectional ministry.

Here is the heart of the plan:
1.     Create/sustain congregations
2.     Allow annual conferences to reorganize
3.     Form a more nimble structure to respond to challenges and act
4.     Raise up 2,000 next-generation clergy

In an earlier presentation, Bishop Goodpastor shared these thoughts with us.

Our council of bishops approved the general direction of this with only two dissenting votes.  This was an astounding statement to me.  While our bishops are a diverse group of people, they were able to see the need for radical change and came together in support of it.  This speaks volumes to me, and highlights the urgency of where we are as a denomination. 

The council asked “what will best increase the number of vital congregations worldwide?” and responded to that.

Here are some challenging questions he shared with us:

Do you long for the church to live on just as it is? Or do you long to see a revival of witness? 
What if we were moving forward?

One of our African bishops shared this thought about ministry in Africa with us, “In the heart of ministry, we put the mission of the church, making disciples of Jesus Christ.”  This is where we need to return.

I was warmed and challenged by these words that Adam Hamiltons shared:

What do you dream for the United Methodist Church – do you dream for her? Do you pray for her?

May we be a praying and dreaming church!  Please join me as we continue to hold on to hope for God’s bride, the church.

Call to Action Review (Church Re-Structuring)

This review was written in February, and has not been updated since then.  It is a very simplified assessment of the Call to Action's proposed areas of need for change.  Please pray for our church as we work through some way to restructure ourselves in the next days.

The United Methodist Church formed the Connectional Table in 2008, and out of that organizational group, the Call to Action Team was established.  This group was charged with the task of identifying the current state of the UMC and assessing what needed to change in order for us to move forward for “faithful witness and fruitful ministry” (4).      The team used the mission of the United Methodist Church: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world; as the aligning factor for the work of the UMC.  To summarize their findings, the team’s belief is that “we must change our mind-set so that our primary focus and commitment are on fostering and sustaining congregational vitality” (4).  The research that backed up this belief comes from two studies:
1.     Vital Congregations Research: this study was done by Towers Watson and collected data from 32,000 congregations in order to come to an understanding of what makes congregations vital and effective.
2.     Independent Operations Assessment: This work was done by Apex and looked over the governance structure, systems, and procedures of the entire denomination to study our efficiency and efficaciousness in meeting our missional outcomes.
The findings from these two studies were the basis for recommendations that come from the Call to Action Steering Team.  Both of these studies affirmed the reality that there is a great need to refocus on the local church.  The Vital Congregations Study brought to light areas where the church should be spending its time and energy in order to produce vital congregations.  The operations assessment revealed an overwhelmingly strong “laco fo strust and confidence among various parts of the denomination and a perception of distance between local churches, annual conferences, and the general church agencies” (25).  The general church should exist to support and equip the local church, not the other way around. 
In regard to congregational vitality, there are two definitions that need to be clear.  The study focused on drivers of vitality and indicators of vitality.  The indicators of vitality through the study led the team to the drivers of that vitality.  These are the indicators (it is important to note that churches of all size were vital; based on percentages rather than raw numbers)
·      Average worship attendance/percent of weekly attendance to membership
·      Total membership
·      Number of children, youth, adults attending broken down by percent of membership
·      Number of professions of faith (percentage of attendance)
·      Number of professions of faith (percentage of membership)
·      Annual giving per attendee
·      Financial benevolences beyond local church (percentage of church budget)
Because cultural diversity was not included in the list of indicators, this slants the definition of vitality differently than our denomination has done so in the past.  I hope that parties focused on exalting diversity will not disregard this study in its entirety because of that shift. 
The drivers of vitality were common elements in all of these vital churches (indicated by the descriptors above).  These churches had the following four elements in common (out of a list of 127 potential drivers), which made them vital:
·      Effective pastoral leadership (management, visioning, and inspiration)
·      Mulitple small groups, and programs for children and youth
·      Mix of traditional and contemporary worship
·      High percentage of spiritually engaged laity who assume leadership role
These drivers are laid out more descriptively through the Call to Action document and also through a document posted online at{db6a45e4-c446-4248-82c8-e131b6424741}/16_MINISTRY_STRATEGIES.PDF, which outlines the strategies that enable these to become drivers in a congregation.  Interestingly, effective pastoral leadership (it its definition and desired outcome) doesn’t mention devotional life, prayer focus, or connectedness to God.  Also, there is not mention about social justice and advocacy in this list.  Both of these seem to be striking gaps in the study.
            The Operations Assessment takes a detailed look at the entire denomination, (focusing specifically on the United States in most cases).  Initially, they focused on the mission, vision and values of the denomination.  They saw the weaknesses and the lack of clarity in all three of these areas for their church.  While their assessment of these areas was important, they are more focused on identification as a guideline to meet our adaptive challenges.  From a host of interviews with bishops, general secretaries, pastors, and lay people, along with research as the to governance structure of the UMC, Apex identified two “levers” or opportunities to improve how the UMC operates in order to fulfill its mission.  Because this mission is best-lived out in local congregations, even big-level changes will effect the local church through an adjustment of resources and priorities.
1.     Reduce the distance between the local church, annual conference, and general church
a.     Make smaller districts and annual conferences in order for pastors, district superintendents, and bishops to know their areas and people.   This allows for pastors to be placed in congregations that fit them for long-term appointments (which help create vitality).
b.     Find an alternate solution to Jurisdictional conferences, which are “too remote to be effective” and was rated below average in effectiveness by more than 50% of the interviewees (165,6)
c.      Reform the general boards and agencies through collaboration.  In the interviews more than 60% of the participants evaluated the boards at below average in fulfilling the UMC’s mission of “making disciples” (167).
2.     Strengthen key processes and organizations that drive church’s mission
a.     Strengthen key organizations
                                               i.     Role clarity, authority to carry out responsibility, and accountability for results are drivers for success in this category (167).   This is a cultural shift that needs to happen without our current structures in order for vitality to occur. As one interviewee said, “Effectiveness is accountability – there is no confusion of intent with outcome, activity with results, and speechifying with communication” (159). 
                                              ii.     While General Conference is effective at legislating, it has no power to lead the church through adaptive challenges in between the four years it meets.  Strengthening an existing structure (such as giving more authority to the Council of Bishops) would allow for stronger leadership.
                                            iii.     Reform Jurisdictional conferences
                                            iv.     Reform Agencies.  Some agency boards outnumber the actual number of staff people on the boards.  Between the thirteen agencies there are 594 board members.  This means that (semi) annually, our church pays for lodging, room, and board for 594 people to meet in largely ineffective boards in order to make adaptive decisions that are best made in smaller boards.   This is further explained in the opportunities for shared services (177).   The proposal for this change is here:
b.     Strengthen Key Processes
                                               i.     Streamline standards for clergy ordination, metrics, and offer opportunities for growth and development.  This includes getting rid of guaranteed appointments, which will call clergy to a higher level of accountability.
                                              ii.     Create ‘places of worship’ models.  These would be prototypes of different models of church that would work best in different contexts.
                                            iii.     Standardize information systems in churches, initiate church-wide strategic planning, and reconsider operating on a four-year budget as a church.  These ideas would help simplify and connect the church.
While the Call to Action study is not perfect, there will never be a study of an organization as layered and webbed as ours that could include every detail of the issues at hand.  We have been trying to reverse the trend in our denomination for decades, and in order to align our denomination to fulfill our mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” drastic changes need to be made.  In all of our church’s work, there is a pervasive lack of trust.  Accountability and clear expectations (for clergy, agencies employees, and boards as a whole) can help in building trust.  We can no longer hide behind nice words and pretty slogans, but must transparently open ourselves up to allow transformation to happen within our denomination.  The world is hungry for Wesleyan living and transformation, and now is our time to step out in boldness.  

The legislative steeps associated with this report be found here:
The Circuit Rider offers some great articles about the Call to Action for those interested in hearing from the perspective of others:

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Faith and Order Recommendation Regarding Homosexuality and Ordination

The 2008 Book of Discipline has this paragraph written about ordination and homosexuality (Paragraph 204.3):

"While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church."

Today, the Faith and Order committee submitted this wording instead, based on a petition presented by Chappel Temple (Petition 20994):

"While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world.  In our understanding of the biblical witness, sexual conduct that occurs outside of the context of marriage between one man and one woman is incompatible with holy living.  Therefore, those who engage in such practices may not be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church."

This clarifies the church's position on all human sexuality, and not just one issue.  It moves the focus from homosexuality to the highest standards of morality in regards to all sexual relationships.  While at first, it may seem like this is "removing language about homosexuality", it is actually affirming a standard that is in place for all ordained people. Furthermore, it removes language that has been used for many years and is harmful to others, without letting go of our standards.  It was approved by a 53-16 vote in our committee.

I have never been a part of a conversation around homosexuality where both sides come out excited about what happened.  In this case, both conservatives and liberals seem to like what we did.  I have talked to people from both camps who were in favor of what we accomplished today.  And moderates were the most delighted of all, I think. A progressive woman made the amendment that brought us to this place, and a conservative man (who made the original petition) spoke in favor of her petition!  There were obviously 16 people who voted against this petition - and I am confident that their beliefs were across the theological spectrum as well.  Votes like this never happen.  This may perhaps be bringing us to compromise, where we can move inward from the poles that we cling so tightly onto and move forward as a church.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Legislative work

Most of the first week at GC is spent in legislative sections.  All of the petitions submitted to the conference are divided into sections so that we can go over the work thoroughly and amend me, reject them, or affirm them.  To further this work, we often break into subcommittees to do our work.  Here's what Wednesday-Friday looked like in for us.
8:00 a.m. - Full plenary with all delegates
1:30 p.m. - Break into legislative committees for first time; elect chair, vice-chair, secretary.  These elections are important because they hold power as to who speaks and if conversation will be handled fairly.  This lasted most of the afternoon, and we didn't come back to our legislative committees until the next morning.
8:00 a.m. - Full plenary
10:30 a.m. - Legislative section; we elected chairs of sub-committees and reconvened after lunch
1:30: We split into subcommittees and spent the afternoon on our particular petitions.

I am in the Worldwide Nature of the Church sub-committee in the Faith and Order legislative section.  We had eight petitions in our sub-committee and it took is Thursday afternoon and all day Friday to get through them.  In our room, there were 23 people, including a German woman, a Danish man, a  Tanzanian man, and a Congolese woman.  At one point, someone was speaking in German, which was being translated into English, which was then translated into Swahili - talk about a worldwide church!  In sub-committees, we take the petitions entrusted to us and we spend a lot of time discussing them, amending them, and then vote on them.  Our recommendation is passed on to the full committee (75 people), which is then voted on during the second week of GC (with all 988 delegates).

It's important to note that if you hear anything about a petition being passed at this point, it is only in the early stages of being approved.  Most likely, it means that a group of 25 people approved it, and it could mean that 75 people approved it.  But any decision made can be reversed until we vote on it next week.  And there are numerous petitions that deal with an issue in different committees (for instance, there are more than 70 petitions around the issue of homosexuality - these petitions will fit into categories in every committee.)  If you hear "such and such passed in committee", it really means very little at this stage but could set things up to go a certain direction in the future.  Make sense?  No?  That's okay :)

Tomorrow, our legislative section will spend our entire day together hearing petitions and voting on them.  Please pray for patience, grace, and God's will in our discussions and work.  As you can imagine, things can get very tense in these settings and we need God's wisdom!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

96 Lbs + 2 Adults + 1 Baby to Tampa!

Reflections on Day 1: Tuesday, April 24

You know what’s scary?  Getting a call at 9:10 p.m. on the eve of a big trip from an automated service that says “Your flight to Tampa at 6:50 a.m. has been cancelled”.  That happened, and then I freaked out.  I frantically called Delta’s help line and then heard an incoming call beep in.  “You have been protected on Flight 1991 to Tampa at 7:10 a.m.”  Funny trick, Delta.  In the future – put those calls together to prevent crazy, sleep-deprived women from freaking out. 

So we got up at 4:00 a.m., my brother took us to the airport at 4:45 a.m. and we were on our way at 7.  96 lbs. of luggage later, we boarded the plane.  I’m a light packer – having grown up believing that “thou shalt only carry on” was somewhere in the Bible – but it just wasn’t happening for this trip.  Between business clothes for ten days, Emmalyn and Eric’s clothes, and everything needed to feed and take care of her, we were busting through our luggage.  Emmalyn slept through our first flight (after making great friends with everyone around us, especially three women who were behind us in security and then behind us on the flight), and was happy through the second flight (where she could still see her new friends).  After the flight, one of those ladies said she wouldn’t be surprised if they were all pregnant in a month after seeing Emmalyn – ha!  My parents arrived in Tampa right as we did, and we got straight into our hotel.  We’re staying in adjoining suites, and it is luxurious and wonderful - such an oasis in the midst of a time of much stress and busyness.  After lunch and some reading, Dad and I headed to opening worship.

Opening worship is always a big deal.  All of the active and retired bishops proceed through the assembly of gathered people, and it gives me goosebumps every time.  Despite what can be said about our episcopal leadership, I’m grateful for our bishops.  They have taken a strong and united stand about our need to change in recent years, and they are leading us well.  Seeing generations of our leadership walk to the stage reminds me of the great faithfulness of the saints who have gone before us.  Our worship service lasted 1:45, and Bishop Goodpastor (appropriate name, huh?) addressed us.  TThere were 4700 people present for opening worship, and singing together is a great joy. he music was a mix of hymns, contemporary worship, spirituals, and other genres –I’m hoping we can hear more of these things, but maybe not blended together so much, in the future. Here is a picture of some of our bishops gathered around the communion table (which is located in the middle of our meeting space).

We had an hour and a half for dinner, but that time goes fast when we are waiting for a restaurant and trying to breathe for a moment before evening session.  Evening session started at 7:30 and we adjourned at 10:00.   Our first evening of plenary session was centered around approving the rules for discussion and procedure of our time together.  This included 1595 lines of words to be approved.   It took two-and-a-half hours to do this, and we aren’t done yet ! That’s part of the hard thing about having 1000 voices together.  Every voice is important but it’s hard to value every opinion in the midst of minute details.

After 10:00, I back to the room, and crashed at 11, wondering if Emmalyn or my alarm would wake me first in the morning. …