General, Jurisdictional delegates answer questions as they prepare for conferences

By Amy Forbus

Arkansas’ delegates to the 2016 United Methodist General and Jurisdictional Conferences have spent the past 10 months familiarizing themselves with a number of issues relevant to the May 10-20 worldwide gathering in Portland, Oregon. As part of their April 22 delegation meeting, they held a live webcast to answer questions submitted by United Methodists from around the state.

Delegation head the Rev. Mark Norman outlined the covenant agreed upon by the delegation for their work together. It includes a list of spiritual and behavioral practices, as well as embracing the core values of humility, grace, respect and love.

Questions submitted in advance began with a request to name issues that delegates expect will take up a disproportionate amount of time at General Conference, contrasted with issues that may not receive adequate attention. Many delegates expect that topics relating to human sexuality, the rules and order of the conference itself and the financial implications of restructuring the denomination will dominate the conversation at General Conference, and that matters such as sacraments, evangelism, ordination and discipleship may not get the attention they deserve. They hope that won’t be the case, though.

“We’ve been wrong before. Hopefully we will be wrong this time,” said Norman.

Lay delegate Todd Burris pointed out that many of the topics that do not get as much time on the floor of General Conference receive a lot of attention in committee work, precisely because it’s easier to find common ground on those topics. Controversy tends to surface in floor discussions, creating a false impression that less controversial issues are being ignored.

Delegates were asked how they are praying in preparation for General Conference. They are asking God for stamina, clearness of mind, open hearts and a sense of accomplishment. The delegation asks others to pray “that we won’t be a voice that creates blockades, but that we have wisdom and insight that is shared throughout the connection,” Norman said.

Citing frustrations from General Conference 2012, lay delegate Karen Millar asked for prayer that this gathering will get to do what it’s supposed to do. “We say that General Conference is the only group that speaks for the church, and that just hasn’t been happening,” she said.

The hour-long webcast touched on restructuring plans, theological concerns, cultural influences and opportunities for holy conferencing, including a potential alternative to Robert’s Rules of Order for discussing contentious issues, called “Rule 44” by delegates. Regardless of what happens, though, delegates agree that the local church carries on and God is at work.

“God is the ultimate arbiter of General Conference,” said the Rev. Maxine Allen. “We act like our individualized votes are going to change the universe, but God is in control.”

An archive of the webcast is now available.