Reflections on Day 4 of #gc2019

It is difficult to make sense of the events of the day. The passing of the Traditional Plan was disorienting, heart-rending, and continues to be heavy on my mind. The church that has been home for my entire life feels a little less like home.

The votes clearly reflect the reality of where the church is at the moment. The votes were around 60-40 or 55-45 for many of the matters – a denomination divided. We are divided. There is no way around that.

At this point, it is difficult to see what the days ahead will hold. It could be a significant number of supporters of the Traditional Plan still decide to leave. It could be that the work of reformation continues within the United Methodist Church (this is almost certain). It could be time for the birth of a new progressive denomination. I don’t know…

For now, I plan to get some sleep and get up tomorrow ready to continue tending to the work of God in my community and across the connection.

I still have hope.

Reflections on Day 3 of #gc2019

Well, I was not expecting the day of conferencing to go as it did. It was disheartening to see the Traditional Plan receive enough votes in legislative committee to go on the plenary. The disaffiliation legislation is interesting. If you asked me six months ago about the wisdom of a “graceful exit” for churches and I would have said that it was a bad idea. There is value in staying together. Of course, that was in a world where it seemed that the One Church Plan was likely to be the plan that moved forward. That the One Church Plan would pass is much less likely at the moment – as it did not receive enough votes to make it out of committee. So, that happened…

Legislative Committee as a Whole

It has been interesting to see the work proceed with a legislative committee of the whole. My first take on that was that it would be laborious and unhelpful. I don’t know that it has been any more laborious than usual, and it has turned out to be helpful. This method of addressing the legislation has removed some of the uncertainty of what will happen in the plenary that usually exists in General Conference.

Points of Order / Information

It is fascinating to see people use a point of order or point of information as a way to prioritize their time at the microphone and then turn it into something else entirely.

“Oh, did I press that button? Well, now that I’m at the microphone…”

I want to offer a presumption of grace and at the same time know that parliamentary maneuvering is part of the fabric of legislative gatherings of this size.

Greater Clarity

I am trying not to get overwrought about things at the moment, as the actual work will take place tomorrow. Though, with the legislative body and the plenary body being the same group of people it seems clear the direction things will move. 24 hours from now and much more will be clearer. Well, probably clearer, though not necessarily.

My continued gratitude to delegates for their offerings of strength, emotion, speaking, and listening.

Reflections on Day 2 of #gc2019

This morning I led worship at Berryton United Methodist Church and preached a sermon about being in connection with one another – Moved to Connect. It is the second in a three part series, The Movement Continues. It is focused on who we are as United Methodist Christians. During our worship service, we lifted up the delegates and work of the General Conference in prayer at both of our worship services. After leaving the church building, I visited one of our congregants who just entered hospice care and then it was time to head home. In between all of these, I was listening and watching the live video stream of General Conference.

Church and Technology

Each time the church gathers with voting devices of any sort, there is some time that is taken making sure that everyone knows how and is able to vote correctly. My first response was, “Why can’t we move through this any faster?” However, I quickly caught myself with the reminder of how important it is that each person is able to understand the tools that are available to them before they are able to use them effectively. Training and practice to prepare will always be helpful in making progress later.

One Legislative Committee

One of the interesting aspects of this General Conference is that there is a legislative body of the entire body. Most often, delegates are divided among a variety of legislative committees which address legislation to be brought back to the entire General Conference. It was surprising to see a non-bishop leading on the livestream, though it seems likely that the Rev. Joe Harris could become a candidate for bishop.

Prioritizing Legislation

I found the voting method to prioritize legislation to be genius. A vote for high or low priority for each piece of legislation with the results being held until the end was a bit mind-numbing on the live video stream, however it was an efficient way of getting of sense of a sense of the body of delegates regarding the entire set of legislation. As a supporter of full inclusion of all people in the life and ministry of the church, it was disheartening to see the One Church Plan ranked as a lower priority than the Traditional Plan.

Early Adjournment

I was puzzled by the vote to adjourn with nearly 45 minutes remaining until the scheduled adjournment for the day. After dealing with the legislation from Wespath, it was suggested that it would be best to wait until the morning to take up the Traditional Plan. On the one hand, probably so. It was nearing the end of the day and there will be a great deal of speaking against and for, amending, substituting, and other legislative maneuvering. On the other hand, probably not. There is less than 18 hours remaining on the schedule for the work to be completed.

In either case, it seemed that it was time for supporters of both the One Church Plan and Traditional Plan to take in the votes of the day and make plans for the best approach to move ahead tomorrow.

Thank You

I am grateful for the time, effort, and dedication of all the delegates.

I continue to pray for wisdom, clarity, peace, and endurance.

Thank you for your service during these days.

Your work makes a difference.

Rest well tonight.

Strategizing for the District

Since being appointed to serve within the Topeka District of the Great Plains Annual Conference, I have had the opportunity to serve as the lead for the Topeka District Strategy Team. I have been learning as I go, seeking to get to know congregations and leaders of the area. Here are some of my current thoughts on how this team can be most effective to create a strategy for the district.

During some years in the past, the Great Plains Annual Conference (and three conferences) has operated with a structure that encouraged local churches to send both people and resources to be part of initiatives and ministry efforts that originated and were executed at the annual conference level. This lead to a measure of success. However, this model is not working as effectively as it once was.

In recent years, there has been efforts made to push the resourcing and leadership “down” from the annual conference toward the mission field of local churches. Some of this is being accomplished with the creation of Networks which connect local churches to more effectively reach their collective mission field. It also is being accomplished through the work of district strategy teams which work alongside the District Superintendent to develop a strategy to reach the mission field within the district.

What does not need to happen is for a district strategy team to come up with a layer of strategy, events and planning which local churches are encouraged to add to their existing ministries and goals. Instead, I believe that a more effective approach will be to look for common goals that exist among many congregations in the district and consider what resources or strategies that district can bring to bear which support those goals.

As part of the charge conference process, goals are developed and turned in annually from every charge in the district. This fall, we are running an experiment by offering local churches goals to consider for 2019 (Experiment_ Topeka District Local Church Goals (PDF)). If churches have an existing process for developing and iterating on goals, great – keep doing it. However, if they do not, they might consider one or more of these goals for the year ahead. The purpose here is to help local churches make progress on goal setting and create the opportunity for local churches to coalesce around similar goals. We’ll see how this goes…

Regardless of whether or not local churches choose from the experimental goals which were offered to them, our next step will be to review the goals from all the churches in the district to see what, if any, similarities there are. Then, create strategies to help support local churches in the goals that they have already set for themselves.

I am hopeful that this approach will support local churches and more effectively coordinate our efforts together as a district.

Making the Network Work

Over the last several years, the Great Plains Annual Conference has introduced Networks into our life in ministry together. These are groups of congregations that share a physically contiguous mission field – all the churches in an area. The church which I serve, Berryton United Methodist Church, is connected in a network with Big Springs UMC, Highland Park UMC, Lecompton UMC, Shawnee Heights UMC, Stull UMC, and Tecumseh UMC.

I have the opportunity to serve as the Network Leader which means convening the pastor and a lay person from each congregation so that we can make progress together and reach our mission field more effectively. I am committed to making our network work. I don’t have time for to add a meeting to my schedule in which we are getting together only to “check the box” that we have completed the task.

We met for the first time as a Network last week. If you are interested in the agenda,¬†click here to download it as a PDF. I believe that our network has the opportunity to be the most innovative in the Great Plains Annual Conference. I am looking forward to building relationships with colleagues and friends and working together to share God’s love with our neighbors and live boldly into God’s dream for southeast Shawnee and northwest Douglas county.

Experiment: Facebook Live Book Study

I am running an experiment this fall in the local church with the purpose of engaging people in discipleship. The experiment is a Facebook Live Book Study. Some of the observations that lead to this experiment:

  • High engagement of video on the church’s Facebook page
  • Congregants sharing the value of study’s led by the preacher
  • Desire for discipleship opportunities outside of Sunday morning

We will be reading¬†Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World by Shelly Miller (Amazon.com) using a reading plan that you can find at the church’s website. My plan is to go on Live on the church’s Facebook page each week to share some highlights from the reading and invite responses. I hope to be able to engage with people who are able to join online at the time, however the content will also be available to engage with through questions I will post in the comments.

I hope that we will be able to connect with new people who would not otherwise be able to fit a discipleship opportunity like this into their schedule. No matter how it goes, there will be valuable learning.

Let’s do this.