A week removed from General Conference, there are five things that stood out to me:
- Worship. General Conference worship was some of the best practices that I have ever witnessed. I have a great deal of appreciation for Taylor Watson Burton-Edwards and the whole worship team. Putting together worship that speaks to everyone is incredibly difficult to do. I try to plan worship for a church of 100 people with similar backgrounds and often find obstacles. I cannot imagine planning worship for 1000 people from all over the world who speak a multitude of languages and come from a myriad of different cultures. It is a daunting task to plan worship for General Conference, but somehow they made it work.
- The Mission Statement. There was some debate about the mission statement at GC, but I am not sure there was a much deeper conversation around it. Let’s all take a step back and reflect on the mission statement. The original mission statement was created in 2004: “The mission of the United Methodist Church is to create disciples of Christ”. It was modified in 2008 to add: “for the transformation of the world.” We are now eight years removed from the current mission statement. In the local church, we would reevaluate the mission statement and see how well we are doing. Does the mission statement still work for our context? Is it too broad? Is it well defined? Is it still relevant? These are critical conversations to have around mission statements. The futurist in me would have loved to have seen a “Study Commission” formed to evaluate the mission statement.
- The Creed. Laying my cards on the table, I was one of the signers on the petition to add the Nicene Creed to our official doctrine. My own understanding is that having the Nicene Creed as part of our official accepted doctrine would help us in ecumenical dialogue. This is especially true with the Anglican Communion and the Orthodox Church. When it failed miserably in every committee, I was upset. Why did it not even get more than a conversation in subcommittees? Looking back I think it was probably for the best. As petitioners, I think we have to be more vigilant in educating people about the importance of the historic Creed and why it is needed. The creed is already in our doctrine in our Articles of Religion/Confession of Faith. This just adds the formal creed itself. My own understanding is that we will be better prepared for General Conference in 2020.
- Rule 44. First of all, Rule 44 is not Christian conferencing in a Wesleyan sense. When you think Christian conferencing, think “How is it with your soul?”, small group formation, class meetings, or Companions in Christ. Rule 44 is a practice to create a mutual agreement around an issue. It is not a bad thing in practice. Businesses, non-profits, and some churches use it all the time. Pastor’s tend to use this practice a lot when they are trying to get people to come together over an issue. My issue with Rule 44 at General Conference is that getting 850 diverse delegates from all over the world to come together over an issue through Rule 44 is crazy. My wife was in a committee meeting with 9 other women from similar backgrounds. It took them 4 hours to finally all come to a mutual agreement using a process similar to Rule 44!
- A Way Forward. My initial reaction to A Way Forward was dismay. For 60 days I have been praying for the delegates, the bishops, the support staff, protestors, caucuses, and anyone connected with General Conference. General Conference delegates are elected to decide these things. I choose to believe that the Holy Spirit is present in mysterious ways at General Conference. So when the plan comes back let’s agree to form a committee and wait for their recommendation it initially sounded like a way out instead of a way forward. A week removed from the chaos and I can tell you that I was wrong. The Spiritual Director in me finally woke up and realized what is happening. As a Spiritual Director, our main objective is to create space for the Holy Spirit to work. The bishops plan is a Holy Spirit space creation plan. Sure it might not change the outcomes, but what it does is allow some breathing room for the Spirit to work.
Maybe General Conference can’t save the church, but it can give us a healthy framework to work with in the future. What were your thoughts from General Conference 2016?