Associates in Advocacy now has two sites on the internet. Our primary help site is at http://www.aiateam.org/. There AIA seeks to offer aid to troubled pastors, mainly those who face complaints and whose careers are on the line.

Help is also available to their advocates, their caregivers, Cabinets, and others trying to work in that context.

This site will be a blog. On it we will address issues and events that come up.

We have a point of view about ministry, personnel work, and authority. We intend to take the following very seriously:


Some of our denomination's personnel practices have real merit. Some are deeply flawed. To tell the difference, we go to these criteria to help us know the difference.

We also have a vision of what constitutes healthy leadership and authority. We believe it is in line with Scripture, up-to-date managerial practice, and law.

To our great sadness, some pastors who become part of the hierarchy of the church, particularly the Cabinet, have a vision based on their being in control as "kings of the hill," not accountable to anyone and not responsible to follow the Discipline or our faith and practice. They do not see that THE GOLDEN RULE applies to what they do.

If you are reading this, the chances are you are not that way. We hope what we say and do exemplify our own best vision and will help you fulfill yours. But we cannot just leave arrogance, incompetence, and ignorance to flourish. All of us have the responsibility to minimize those in our system.

We join you in fulfilling our individual vow of expecting to be perfect in love in this life and applying that vow to our corporate life in the United Methodist Church.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

If you have any questions or suggestions, direct them to Rev. Jerry Eckert. His e-mail address is aj_eckert@hotmail.com. His phone number is 941 743 0518. His address is 20487 Albury Drive, Port Charlotte, FL 33952.

Thank you.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Trust of Bishops

(Written 5/20 and submitted to UM-Insight where it was published 5/24)

From a variety of writings on blogs and in articles in the American church media, it appears that some bishops are having the blues.

“They don’t show bishops respect any more,” complained one American bishop.

“I have never felt distrust before as much as I did at this General Conference,” said a bishop from another part of the world.

“Why don’t they trust us?” another American bishop asked.

Well, let me count the ways.

One, the Council of Bishops projects the attitude that everyone else is to blame for the problems of the American Church.

Two, it has been estimated that two thirds of what the General Conference had before it in plenary came from the Council of Bishops or from bishops heading boards and agencies.

Three, many bishops and their cabinets tend to listen to the churches’ complainers and not to the pastors when there is trouble. Pastors feel that Cabinets look upon clergy as expendable.

Four, many bishops are too busy to take time to deal respectfully with most pastors and churches. They often don’t respond to requests for help or information.

Five, no matter how long and distinguished a pastor’s or Local Pastor’s career, Cabinets show no cognizance of those records when a complaint comes up that sounds serious or when the Cabinet wants to make a move.

Six, many bishops tend to make appointments without consultation, contrary to the Discipline, and the Council of Bishops does not have a will or a way to hold them accountable.

Seven, at least one bishop put his picture up on the right side of the cross in the conference center’s chapel. Jesus’ picture is on the left side.

Eight, complaints brought against bishops about administrative violations of the Discipline are dealt with by their colleagues on the College of Bishops and are never held accountable.

Nine, bishops tend to take authority over areas of church life that have not been assigned to them by the Discipline.

Ten, as stated in another posting on this blog site, “we have not challenged our leaders about their focus on the world as their parish. They can so easily fall into the temptation of not minding their parish here!”

No, enough American bishops show little or no respect to the pastors and churches under their charge that they have lost the respect of their annual conferences. Whatever reservoir of respect the bishops have drawn upon for generations is mostly empty.

Bishops face having to earn respect. They can no longer presume upon it.

Maybe that’s why some of the most respected bishops in the world-wide connection are the ones who are term-limited by their Central Conferences.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

How to Read this 2012 General Conference Blog

There is an amazing amount of activity and ideas generated by an event like a General Conference. I had no idea when I sat down that my reflections and reports would amount to over 65 pages in hard copy.

I would love to have you read every posting, of course. But I suggest that you look at the left hand margin of the blog to skim down through the titles and click on one that interests you most, read it, go back to the list again, and pick another, and so on.

One reason I wanted to write this was to reflect on my techniques as a lobbyist, sharing what I know and what I did so that others can evaluate that and do it better when it is their turn.

Most of the rest I have posted in chronological order so that this first post is above and the last post for the end of General Conference is at the bottom and the rest marked by dates. They approximate the order of writings as you will see my attempt to show the flow of the conference. If you know an event took place on a certain date, if I wrote about it, you can find it at that date.

I confess I loved writing this blog. It allowed me to remain in that milieu a little longer. I hope you can enjoy more of the blog than you expect.

General Conference Is a Big Deal

Many that I know from my work as an advocate are really skeptical that everything institutional in the United Methodist Church is at best a show and at worst a cynical distribution of power and money to the elite with no thought to the mission or the saints (most local church people) of the Church. Our experience seeing the underside of the denomination gives my friends solid grounds to be skeptical.

I am inches away from their skepticism and would disregard General Conference myself for the same reasons except for one thing. I met a saint in 1984, my first General Conference as a lobbyist for church people in trouble with church leaders. His name is Richard Wright, then a superintendent from West Virginia. He encouraged me to keep on with what I was doing. But he suggested I consider working on more positive things like writing about better ways to do things, like being more supportive of those trying to do things right, like discussing responsibilities along with rights of pastors.

By the way, Rev. Wright is alive and well in retirement, a delegate from West Virginia told me.

Every General Conference since then, I have met some other remarkable people whose very existence keeps me from despair.

The big deal about General Conference is that there are a lot of those kinds of folks and they are meeting each other! Somehow, annual conferences elect not only the ambitious and cynical who know how to game the system but some real caring, insightful, capable people.

And I knew this General Conference was going to be big because I would have a chance to meet some of those kinds of people from outside the United States.

Difficult Disclaimer

I rarely name names in any of these postings about the 2012 General Conference. I’d love to name-drop. Most of those I mention have specifically okayed my use of what they said or did. But I am more comfortable not identifying them because I have a history with General Conferences and with many denominational leaders. I do not want to taint good folks by letting the antagonists I have encountered in the leadership of the Church know I have good relationships with them.

Maybe I am paranoid. But if you check the record, you will find nearly all my petitions have been dropped during plenary, usually on the consent calendar. Because this is not my “time,” I do not wish to cause any of the saints I have met to face any backlash they might get because of me.

Ten years from now when everyone will be happy to tell you they believed in my ideas all along, I don’t want you to challenge them because they were nowhere in my record. Presume they were. It’s okay. It’s the value of the ideas and the vision that counts, not who had them when.

I would love to celebrate every saint I met so you would know them. But if I do not name them, you will look for the “saint” in everyone you meet who was in Tampa. Chances are you will recognize the real ones pretty quickly.

May you be as fortunate as I have been.

If by chance you want me to name you, let me know and I’ll edit your name in. Blogs are correctable that way.

Lobbying - Preparations

There are a lot of things that need to be done to lobby at General Conference.

First and foremost were getting my petitions in on time and in proper form so they would be printed for all to see in the publications for delegates.

There were the logistics of a place to stay, a place to park the car, meals to get, and connecting to the internet.

Then there was connecting with key delegates and church agency staff, considering which delegates may be sympathetic to my petitions and what legislative committees they were on, which of my friends was going to be there and what they intended to do, and what help I could be to all of them.

Then there was the task of studying the board and agency petitions related to what mine address, tracking my petitions and those of friends, and reading up on the major proposals the delegates would face during the plenary.

Finally, where would I be when? When lobbying, one has to be available and yet be where the most critical actions were taking place. From my experience at previous quadrennial meetings like this, I had some ideas that were a little unconventional.

And as one retired bishop reminded me before we went to Tampa, we have to know where the bathrooms are!

Let me post a brief review of each of these responsibilities. Then you can grade me on how I did and see what you as a lobbyist should not do.

Lobbying - Petitions

The primary task of a lobbyist is to provide grist for the legislative mill so that there are specific opportunities for an idea to be processed by the General Conference. I’ve been doing petitions (additions or corrections to passages in the current Book of Discipline) since 1976.

Last fall, I turned in something like 68 petitions ranging from finessing some paragraphs of the Discipline to complete rewrites to satirical ones to recommendations on theology.

I did not try to send any through Annual Conference because the committee that reviewed them and recommended them invariably recommended non-concurrence. No one on those committees had ever been through a personnel process against them to realize what was actually going on. Discussion on the floor of my petitions invariably was either done when everyone was tired or was not done at all.

I also was very aware that the General Conference rarely had time to consider any petitions but the ones from the boards and agencies of the denomination and those from the Council of Bishops. Even petitions from annual conferences seldom got consideration.

Rather than waste our annual conference’s time, I just sent in petitions on every paragraph I believe needed to be changed, based on my years of experience as an advocate. My hope was that someone would actually read them when they were printed in the Advanced Daily Christian Advocate. And maybe something would stick with someone. And maybe someday someone would include it in a board or agency petition as their idea.

Having gone to most of the General Conferences since 1984, I have seen that happen. So I once again cast my bread upon the waters.

Lobbying - Logistics

I have a friend who lives in Tampa and he was kind enough to invite me to sleep at his house and commute downtown from there. He provided bus routes and times. And he suggested the best restaurant within walking distance of the convention center. He’s been a computer geek so I would be able to use his wifi to connect with the internet.

By searching the internet, I found a lot of places to eat. I also found a handy location of a Florida grocery chain, Publix, that we like down here. There was an oriental grocery listed as a few blocks further up the street that might be good for those on diets and those from overseas.

In February, there was a pre-conference event for church and secular press at the Tampa Convention Center so I drove from my friend’s house downtown and realized that if it weren’t for my GPS, I would have been driving in circles. Tampa was laid out by the same surveyors who laid out my home town of Waukesha, WI. Tampa is on a large bay so most of its streets are not lined up north-south-east-west but on diagonals and curves. Even my GPS was confused when I left my friend’s house and it circled me back to the house during the first five minutes of my drive downtown!

I found a good parking garage downtown next to the convention center and decided I’d drive back and forth from his house instead of trying to work the bus system.

The basics were in place.

Lobbying - Connecting with Key People

For some of my previous lobbying efforts, I developed lists of 250 delegates to whom I sent by mail general suggestions about how things went and essays on the direction of the church as well as encouragement to vote for my petitions. Most I did not know, though many I did or had been recommended to me by AIA colleagues.

I discovered to my chagrin that even those I knew the best were unable to help my petitions because of the rules of General Conference, especially that once a petition related to a paragraph of the Discipline was passed by a legislative committee, all other petitions related to that same paragraph could be voted non-concurrence without any consideration even if they could have added a different idea. (Rule 31 [2]). And some sat on their hands at crucial points in discussions, leaving my petitions without support.

I figured that for this time, I would let my petitions stand on their own merit and not push any of a dozen or so delegates about any of my petitions. What I did was pick people who knew me pretty well and try to help them with things like the Publix store, how to reach me, how to preserve a petition that didn’t get forwarded to the floor, and any other helpful thing I could do for them. I sent the same materials to staff, reporters, and some friends I knew were coming to Tampa. I copied the notes to the AIA board.

My working list ended up being too short. But word somehow got around and I found a lot of folks in Tampa who somehow got that same information without my help.

I kept them posted of changes and some other things through “Brief notes” by e-mail during the two weeks of General Conference. And I got to see most of them, if only for a few moments.

Of all I sent to them, the one thing that had the most impact was letting them know about the Publix grocery store. It did a booming business while we were there.

Thanks to a $7 purchase at WalMart of a bright red jacket, I could be seen from anywhere in the plenary. That became important when delegates wanted to talk with me or when I sent notes to delegates and had the page point out me in my red coat.

One person with whom I connected is the editor of United Methodist Insight, an on-line publication project providing a wide variety of articles and views of General Conference. She invited me to be one of her contributors and encouraged me to write about what was happening the first week because she was not going to be able to come until the second week.

A friend from Wisconsin who taught at Africa University asked me to make contact with two of its graduates who were coming as delegates. I wasn’t going to do traditional lobbying anyway. So I added that to my agenda and, without my realizing it, it changed what I ended up doing at General Conference.

Lobbying - Studying the Materials for General Conference

Good lobbying requires reading everything one can before attending the conference. Because I was invited to write for the special project called United Methodist Insight (http://um-insight.net), I read most of those essays over the weeks just prior to Tampa.

There were a lot of things to study: key issues, where my petitions were referred, who was on which committees of the General Conference, the rules of the General Conference, the schedule, and who all were delegates.

I could have done that on-line because all the pre-conference materials were posted there (www.UMC.org/2012General Conference). I was able to skim through the lists of delegates and who were on the legislative committees.

But to work through the legislation, I found that too difficult to do on-line (my dufferishness came out). So I postponed all that, deciding to see if I could purchase the hard copies at Cokesbury in Tampa when I got there. They would all be up-to-date where some of the on-line lists were incomplete.

All I looked at from then on were articles in UM-Insight, UMNS Daily reports, and the UMC.org website.

Let me say that after years of mostly seeing fluff and PR materials among the traditional UM news outlets, I was seeing some articles that were very critical and journalistically more sound. That was a refreshing experience. I know several of the news staff and found them to have come through those years with their integrity intact. This was a good year for them.

I confess I spent more time writing than reading. After reading several articles, I submitted comments that were accepted.

One such piece was divided in two by the UM-Insight editor, with the two sections being filled out with more background and data. They were published there and I put them in this blog (see below April 5 – “Where Do We Find God’s Spirit in Our System” and April 11 – “What Are They Ignoring?”) I resurrected an article from 2008 that went into UM-Insight and this blog on April 13 (see “Priorities for General Conference” of that date below). One of my comments on an article in UM-Insight also made this blog as well on April 21 (“No Large Southern Church Left Behind”)

This seemed to me to be an odd way for a lobbyist to prepare for General Conference.

Lobbying - Scheduling My Activities

I had to have time to move in at my friend’s place and get his help navigating downtown.. I knew I had to be sure to find the two grocery stores as soon as I could. I learned where the Africans were staying, knowing I would try to meet them there. That would take up the morning of Sunday, April 21, my first day there.

On-line, I found the tentative schedule for General Conference. I looked it over and circled the meetings and events of the first few days I wanted to observe. Sunday afternoon, meeting the two Africans was my first priority. On Monday evening, the only thing I saw was the committee on reference, the key group assigning petitions to the legislative committees and negotiating any changes of assignment. Tuesday, in the morning, was the meeting of the committee on credentials where I knew one of the African delegates was to be a member and I wanted to be there to support him. After that organizational meeting, there were sessions for delegates under 30, for ethnic minority delegates, and for women delegates. I thought I’d observe the third one. After lunch was to be the opening of General Conference. My schedule was set.

Lobbying - Plan B, C, and . . .

Being set does not take into account things that could happen. I needed no Plan B for myself until a couple days before General Conference. My friend called to say that something came up and he could not let me stay at his house.

Plan B? Cheapest motel would still have been over $80 a night. Friends who live in Clermont, FL, have invited us to use their house in case of emergency. But that was 80 miles away. My home was only a 100 miles and that made as much sense and in many ways would be a whole lot handier.

And then there was the weather…

And then came the problem of meeting the two African delegates. One had a roommate who only spoke Portuguese and a page told me I couldn’t send a message to the other because I was not a delegate!

And then Google bought Blogspot and changed the protocols so that I couldn’t format or copy and paste as I had been able to do just days before conference started.

Lobbying can strain one’s resources and creativity!

April 22, The First Day - The Site

On Sunday morning, thanks to directions from a Florida pastor friend, I found the parking garage next to the convention center. With my carry-on suitcase holding my laptop, books, and papers trailing behind me, and wearing my bright red jacket, I started out to get the lay of the land.

I walked across the street and walked through the whole building. In the foyer on the second floor, the registration booth was being put up along with ones for first aid and information.

On huge placards on both sides of the foyer were printed the icons of sponsors of the General Conference. That astonished me. Previous General Conferences had their expenses covered by amounts in the quadrennial budget and from registration fees of visitors.

As I walked passed those sponsor signs up to the main area where the conference was to be held, the only other people in the area were two bishops that I knew quite well and their wives. The Council of Bishops had been meeting all week in Tampa and they had just finished. We exchanged pleasantries, commented on how odd it was to have the conference paid for by sponsors, and I went on to explore the site.

Many of the sponsors are denominational institutions: a couple seminaries, an insurance company, and some UM foundations. Some were not: United Health Care, the cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater, a local hospital (that may have been one of ours years ago?), and Travel Portland (where General Conference will be held in four years).

I wondered if the Koch brothers might be involved….

At the third level of the center, agency displays and Cokesbury were also under construction on the west end of the great hall. On the east end, there were piles of round tables on the floor in the plenary area that workmen were putting up. The distance from where the main stage/podium was to the furthest table had to be over 100 yards. I thought having binoculars would be a good idea.

April 22 - The Grocery Store

It was still fairly early Sunday morning so I decided to walk, travel case in tow, to the two grocery stores I had told my contacts about. It began misting. The weather I predicted (70 at night and 85 during the day with no clouds) changed. It was 65, the wind was out of the north, and the light rain was almost enough to get your clothes wet. But I was doing okay as I crossed the bridge over the Hillsborough River next to the center.

And there was the Publix. It was an older store without a pharmacy but its bakery and deli were as good as the ones at home. I bought a salad for lunch, put it into my travel case, and headed out looking for the Asian market I had found on the internet.

The wind was blowing harder and the mist was getting heavier as I hiked back across the river and turned up the street. I headed for where the buildings would protect me from the weather as I walked northish. When I got to the address, there was no Asian store. The delegates were stuck with American vegetables from Publix.

April 22 - Looking for an African Friend

I walked back to the center which was across from the hotel where the denomination housed the delegates from overseas. I was still a little wet from the rain but figured the air-conditioning would dry me off.

The sun had finally come out as I crossed over to the hotel. I went to the desk and they told me how to use a house phone to call one of the African delegates my Wisconsin friend asked me to meet. The clerk said he had checked in yesterday. I called, got no answer, and left a voice mail saying I would be in the lobby with my red coat on, hoping to see him soon.

As I sat waiting, warm and moist, in the midst of dozens of people from all over the world, I pulled out a book to read and I fell asleep. I must have dozed undisturbed for about a half hour. The Asian gentleman in a chair across from me got up and I assured him I would watch his things until he returned. He smiled and left.

A few minutes later, he returned. We introduced ourselves. He is a bishop from an Evangelical Methodist denomination unofficially related to the UMC. He said he was very interested in seeing how we did things, resolve issues like homosexuality, kept records, and made decisions. I told him a little about Associates in Advocacy and then I shared (unloaded, is more like it) some of my concerns about the quality of personnel work I encountered in our denomination.

I apologized for being so negative but he was most gracious and understanding. He gave me his card and insisted I call him by his nickname rather than “Bishop.” I thought he was like my first bishop, Ralph Alton, only a warmer version, if you can believe that. I was deeply impressed with him as we spoke and hoped he would not fall into the trap our bishops have.

My African friend didn’t come down. I called him to say I would meet him upstairs at the orientation meeting in the hotel’s ball room but had to leave that message on voice mail once again.

April 22 - Orientation for International Delegates

April 22 – Orientation for International Delegates

After the bishop left, I realized I was dry. And I was hungry so I got out the Publix salad and ate it there. Then I went up to the ballroom for the orientation. I got there early, looked over the room, saw small packets of materials from one of the general boards at each chair around each table.

I guess I was looking for signs that one of the caucus groups was handing out materials but it looked pretty straight up.

I found a spot at the back of the room and in the center in front of what looked like translator’s booths. Leaving my travel case there, I walked over to the main entrance to the ballroom and met an older woman of short stature. Her name tag said “Iva Joyce.”

She told me quite a story as people began to come into the ballroom. I wrote it up in the following article for UM-Insight and this blog.

April 22 - One of the Saints

(First written May 4 for UM-Insight, revised 5/15, based on event of 4/22 but not yet published)

It was 1972 and General Conference was in full swing when Iva Joyce Hill from the Board of Missions noticed that delegates from the churches in Latin America were sitting there with frustrated looks on their faces.

"They were having a hard time understanding what was going on. While each knew some English, they were unable to keep up with the discussion in the plenary," she told me the day the orientation for overseas delegates began. “I realized something had to change before the next conference.”

The 1976 General Conference accepted French, Portuguese and Spanish translators from the Board of Missions who sat within the bar of the conference with the delegates, whispering the proceedings. Non-English delegates were finally allowed to have voice through translators.

"But some leaders still thought it was folly and an unnecessary expense," she said.

By 1984 booths with translators and earphones for delegates who didn't speak English were introduced, and German was added as a translated language. In 2008, the Advance DCA was printed in French, German and Portuguese.

By the 2012 General Conference there were 150 professionals and volunteers translating American Sign Language, French, German, Kiswahili, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish for the Legislative Committees and Plenary sessions.

"I am glad to see that now it is a natural part of what we do here, and, on top of that," she added with a big smile, “the current leadership has been extremely supportive. I'm very proud of our church for that."

Thank you, Joyce Hill.

April 22 - The Orientation Session

By the time the session started Sunday afternoon, all the tables in the room were crowded with delegates and others who had different colored name tags. The people at the table with me wore blue ones which I quickly learned designated translators. They were also getting oriented so they would be more effective when they worked in the legislative committees or in the plenary.

Unfortunately, the delegates appeared not to be getting translating during the first part of the orientation. The introductions, the worship, and some information about some of the issues were all in English. The translators were all at the tables in the back where I was and there wasn’t anyone in the interpreters’ booths. The leaders up front soldiered on with good UM stuff and the delegates were all polite enough not to look inattentive.

At the break, ear phones came out and interpreters filled the booths behind me.

Among other bits of information passed along, the delegates learned that the UM church world wide is 58% women and that only 33% of the delegates were women, The world median age for United Methodists is 26 but in the United States it is 57. Delegates were encouraged to speak up during General Conference. They were to use only the “holy handshake” and avoid any other kind of personal contact (no hugging, touching, commenting on clothing). Respect was to be shown to each other.

The delegates were then broken up into language groups, the French and Swahili groups were huge. The Portuguese was very large. The rest were much smaller. Each went to separate rooms. I decided not to go with any of them but went to see if I could register and get a colored name tag. I left a voice mail message for my African friend about what I was doing and when I would be back to the hotel.

At one of the tables on the first floor of the convention center, I saw a delegate I knew from several prior General Conferences. We talked about my petitions and about his experience as a superintendent. One of the most interesting stories he shared was about a fellow Cabinet member who shut down a church for six months. He said the pastor, a part-time Local Pastor with his own job and home, was okay with it. The congregation was too. The ones who couldn’t handle it were a clique of antagonists. They joined another church after about six weeks. When the congregation resumed, the antagonists did not come back and the church did just fine after that.

Registration was not open so I returned to the hotel without a name tag, looking for my friend. There was no answer to his phone at all, this time, not even a chance to leave a voice mail. Upstairs in the ball room, everyone had reconvened there for supper. One of the translators invited me to stay so I did.

At the table were one of the marshals and one of the pages whom I knew well from other times and places.

Having been up early that morning to make the 100 mile drive to Tampa and facing the return trip, I headed out after trying one more time to call my friend’s room, again leaving a voice mail about being back in the morning and attending the continuing orientation.

There would be no blogging tonight. I was very tired.

In Case You're Wondering

I do not intend to go into detail of every day I was at Tampa. But that first day left quite an impression on me.

The sheer number of foreign-speaking delegates, especially the ones speaking Portuguese, French, and Swahili, was stunning. The numbers of just them were as large as my own annual conference plenary sessions.

Learning the background of how translating began, walking more than a mile in the rain, meeting a bishop who wants to learn what to do and what to avoid doing in his young and growing denomination, and connecting with old friends sandwiched between two long periods of driving in my car represent the kinds of things that can happen at General Conference, even a couple days before it started.

It really is a big deal.

April 23 - Translators

My registration tag was yellow. The print for my first name was large. The rest was very small and to see it meant leaning down embarrassingly close. I learned, for example, that Iva Joyce was really Joyce Hill and that the name “Iva” which she never used was required when her legal name was asked. Someone made the decision to print only the first names large enough to see from three feet away and they printed hers with both first and middle names. – When I was trying to get her okay to print my article about her, it took the Board of Global Ministries two days to figure out who I was talking about!

I ended up printing my name, affiliation, and location much bigger. But I was still at the disadvantage of not being able to really see anyone else’s. For a lobbyist to have to give up trying to see who the delegates were turned into a pain, almost physical in its uselessness.

But sitting in back at the continuing orientation for international delegates that Monday morning, I was among the translators again. When I used the phrase “international delegates” with one of the interpreters, she pointed out that we all were international, including us from the US. I started using “foreign” and “overseas.”

I asked a Portuguese translator if by chance he knew the African I was most anxious to meet. He immediately left the table and brought back a second translator, saying both would be glad to see if they could find him. It was impossible in the room to ask a page to take a note to him because there was no assigned seating. How these two were going to find him, I had no idea. But they were so nice and so intent upon being of help to me.

After a break in the session, during which I successfully found the men’s room, I returned to a table full of different people, all with blue nametags, but speaking European languages. One was a clergy person seeking to join an American conference. He was very interested in what I did for Associates in Advocacy. He hadn’t been in our country more than a few months before he saw some of the lousy personnel work that was happening.

That afternoon, I sat next to a Swahili translator. I asked him about it. He said that Swahili has to use a dozen words to translate some American words. He said it was especially difficult to translate some of our denominational jargon.

As a colleague remarked later during a plenary session, “The interpreters are going to control the tempo of General Conference.” They did. Everyone who spoke from up front did so at a slower rate. On the floor, it could get dicey when a foreign delegate tried to speak and no translator picked up on what was being said. That could really slow things down for a few minutes.

Some of the translators were very good. But during the orientation and during other times, the acoustics were terrible and I could not understand either the delegate or the one repeating in English what had been said.

Someone said I should get a hearing aid.

I spoke at length with one of the translators and asked if he was being paid. I knew many Africa University students were translators in 2008 and many more came this year. I’m sure their expenses were all paid. But this one was in business in Virginia and did a lot of contract work for the State and Defense Departments. He said the Church was paying him the commercial rate. I was pleased with that because we need as many excellent interpreters as we can get for General Conference.

I asked him what the difference was between a translator and an interpreter. He said the two were usually interchangeable. But true interpreters did not even think about translating. They turned the concepts they were hearing in one language into the other simultaneously. It was a rare gift developed over years of doing it.

April 23 - "The African Caucus"

(Written on Monday, 4/23, revised Thursday 4/26 – submitted 4/29 to UM-Insight but not published)

The large meeting room at the Marriott was filled to capacity. It could have been more than 1,000 people. Delegates from overseas filled most of the room and the rest were translators.

The orientation of these delegates to the issues and processes of the conference were handled in a straight-forward manner by representatives of various boards and agencies and General Conference staff. Those needing translation were given earphones so they could have the benefit of several translators who sat in booths at the very back of the large room.

During the practice of voting procedures, there was no mention of the electronic voting to be used during plenary sessions. And the presiding bishop was “casual,” not really very helpful. In fact, conversations at the tables of delegates made it hard to hear what the bishop was saying.

For the end of the afternoon, the delegates were divided up into their respective regions to each speak among themselves. The African delegates stayed in the main hall and the others went to other rooms. The room was still more than half full.

Six bishops sat at the table on the stage facing the delegates. After prayer and a general word of gathering, one of the bishops began making some observations to the delegates.

“Be mindful of gifts with strings attached. There are those who will give you cell phones and free meals in exchange for your vote on certain issues,” she said. “Beware.”

“Watch out for people who take you shopping when you should be voting.”

Another bishop was quite concerned that the delegates keep in mind the needs of Africa. “Do not be absent!” he said. “Absent votes help the other side.”

“Africans understand what is to be supported and what is not to be supported. We do not want to be seen as only worried about African concerns. We stand before God. We are United Methodists. But we know what will help the African church. The rest will take care of itself in the future. PULL TOGETHER,” he concluded.

Another bishop focused on simple strategies. “Stay till the end of meetings. Don’t miss meetings. Vote right.”

Another urged delegates to spend their money wisely on meals so that they would have something left at the end of General Conference.

“The translators are here to help you speak, to give you voice in the meetings. Use them,” he said. He also urged them to be brief in making statements.

“And if you wish to try to speak English, do not be afraid of making a mistake, thinking your English is broken. BREAK IT!”

The last bishop identified some places where they needed to assert themselves. “We must be better represented on the Judicial Council and University Senate. We must be united on these.”

A period of discussion followed.

The first delegate to speak said he most appreciated his right to vote as he chose.

Another asked that the bishops offer them guidance on the issues. Interestingly, no bishop did during the session.

A delegate asked if there was a strategy to come up with candidates not only for the Judicial Council and University Senate but also for seats on committees, boards, and agencies all across the church. A bishop responded saying that a committee needed to be formed to come up with names for such positions and not to count on the bishops.

It was clear that the bishops called upon the delegates to vote in solidarity.

During the whole session, there was no mention of social issues. A translator later clarified what issues the Africans seemed most concerned about.

“They are deeply concerned about expanding educational opportunities, especially having greater seminary capacity to meet the astounding growth they are experiencing. They want a quicker process to ordination and conference membership. They need more representation at all levels of the denomination. They want help which facilitates travel and communication. There are things they have on their agenda far more important than social issues.”

A delegate later reported he also heard the delegate who was thankful for freedom of conscience to vote as they chose. And he said he heard the plea for guidance from the bishops. “These are both going on among the delegates,” he said. “There are some crucial things that Africa needs, education, seminaries, a quicker ordination process, better representation. These are our biggest concerns.”

April 23 - The Committee on Reference

In 1988, I observed at the Committee on Reference. Having sat in on the orientation of the committee led by someone from the Committee on the General Conference, I walked with him as he left after the break, questioning the rules about committee members controlling which petitions would be considered by the legislative committees they represented and that they could also determine the order in which those petitions were to be considered. I asked about the rule which said petitions could be dropped once a petition on that paragraph was accepted by the legislative committee. I pointed out just how manipulative that was. He simply said those were the rules passed by General Conference and he was only explaining them. When I tried to go back in to observe the meeting after their break, I was muscled out of the room. I learned many days later about Paragraph 721 which provides for open meetings with a very few exceptions. They really had no right to remove me. I guess my questions rankled someone, though to my knowledge no one on the committee was aware of them.

I have made it a point to attend as many of their sessions as I can ever since. In 2008, their sessions were the site of my having a kidney stone attack from which I ended up going to the emergency room. Up until that moment in Fort Worth, I had been impressed with the integrity of the group and its leadership. So leaving the committee was okay.

This Monday night in Tampa, I stayed long enough to learn that the person who chaired the committee in 2008 was elected to chair it again in 2012. I felt I did not need to return to observe any of their sessions.

Interestingly, the General Conference rules are much the same as they were in 1988 but I heard nothing like what was said back then.

Until the rules change, and if different people are elected the committee’s officers, that will be the first committee I will observe in the future.

April 23 - "Shadows"

Every committee at General Conference is convened by either a bishop or a key General Conference officer. They describe the function of the committee, introduce them to each other, and conduct the elections necessary to determine the officers for the group. Then they leave.

The Reference Committee was convened by the General Conference Secretary. He introduced himself and the Petitions Secretary. Then he introduced two young staffers that he called their “shadows.”

Not being one to waste a moment, he immediately explained.

“I believe in the ‘Mac Truck Rule.’ In an organization such as ours, we have to be able to function no matter what. So I have made sure each staff member in my team has a person assigned as a shadow that gets to know the job well enough that if someone is run over by a Mac truck, the organization will not miss a beat,” he said.

April 24 - Finding my African Friend

During the late winter, I received an email from my African friend about him being nominated for the credentials committee. He wondered if it was a good committee to be on.

Several colleagues checked and agreed it was important but should not be very busy. It would mainly validate alternates who were in Tampa in place of delegates who could not get visas or were otherwise unable to come. Since that committee met the first thing on the morning of the opening of General Conference, I hoped I’d meet him when he came. Nothing else had worked.

Tuesday morning, he came in a few minutes late but in time to get elected vice-chairperson! He has that kind of presence.

Later that morning, both translators found me and asked if I had found him yet. I said we connected at a meeting. I told them he had been moved to a different hotel room without the desk knowing it. He never got a single message from me.

April 24 - Establishing a Routine

My African friend was off soon after we got together because he was also a delegation head and had to get to a meeting.

So I then started the routine I followed everyday when I came in. I went up to the message board at the information booth on the second level and checked for messages. I then went to Cokesbury where I picked up the first copy of the Daily Christian Advocate (DCA) and the printed version of the Advanced DCA volumes. I had not yet found an “office” so I went down to the first floor where newly arrived delegates and visitors were congregating. I spent time with two old friends and learned one was now on the staff of the General Conference Secretary. The other was there for the umpteenth General Conference as an advocate for Methodist Federation for Social Action.

“So you’re one of the hospitality staff,” he said, pointing at my red jacket.

“Naw, I just look like I am. The Florida greeters and helpers all wear a red vest. I’ve got sleeves.”

“Pass the word that they are as nice and helpful as the Texas bunch were four years ago,” he said.

I agreed. “They are characteristic of all the Methodists I’ve been meeting so far, from wherever in the world. They’re as nice as they can be.”

“Did you know that the food court over there has complimentary wifi?” my friend asked.

He had found my “office.” I was on-line in moments and found the chairs and tables a great place to be visible if anyone was looking for me.

That place also turned out to be where I met a lot of delegates and learned a lot about ministries and problems going on. Sharing a table led to many interesting conversations, passing of business cards, and establishing links for future contacts.

I had my entering routine: message board, Cokesbury for my DCA, elevator down to the first floor food court to check my email and meet others. Then I could head out to observe meetings or the plenary.

My leaving routine was similar. I checked out my email at the end of the day, checked the message board, and left for the day before it got too late for me to drive home safely.

April 24 - Opening Ceremony

One of the things I intended to do was establish a place where I could ordinarily be found in the visitors’ seating areas during plenary sessions. But by Tuesday night my feet and legs were killing me. Having walked through the plenary area earlier during a time when music for the opening worship was being practiced, I found the sound level was way too high for me. So I did not plan to stay for the opening of General Conference.

I did go in as people were gathering. Coincidentally, a group of people I knew from a congregation in Port Charlotte entered at the same time I did. They all had red t-shirts naming their church and hometown. With my red jacket, I felt like I was one of them for a few seconds. Then the one I greeted turned away as if I wasn't even there.

I went on to fulfill my main reason for being in the plenary area.

My Wisconsin friend who asked me to meet two delegates from Africa University let me know she would be in Florida the next afternoon and asked if I could arrange for them to go to supper with her. So before the opening ceremony began, I took notes up to pages in the plenary area to inform both pastors what I had arranged.

I’m glad I had on my red jacket. Both got their notes from the pages, turned, and waved to let me know they would make it.

I felt free to leave for home.

April 25 - Actual Lobbying

Lobbying is to be available to those who will be looking at your petitions so I picked the legislative committee with the largest number of mine, Judicial Administration. An experience I’d had helping with the appeal of a church trial showed me the many gaping flaws in our trial system and I tried to repair them with my petitions. I knew that several of the committee members had also been involved in one way or another with that effort and had seen my arguments.

What was frustrating on Wednesday morning was that the presider took so long to get into the flow of action. To her, “diddly” stuff seemed to be terribly important and needed to be given time. Many of those elected to such crucial positions in the working committees are inexperienced.

The chairperson elected to the Committee on Reference wasted no time. She was also in the Judicial Administration group and would have been just as peeved about the inefficiency. But at that time, the committee she chaired was busy elsewhere.

April 25 - Rigging the Legislative Process

What few people understand about the legislative process at General Conference is that it is subtly rigged.

First, a large number of those who belong to the board or agency whose petitions are being considered seek to be on the legislative committee that is considering those very petitions. No one stands up to this conflict of interest.

Second, since that group tends to know each other, they are quick to nominate people they expect to help get their petitions in. Most committee members do not want to be an officer because it is genuinely demanding. So while they squirm hoping they will not be chosen, the “controllers” jump in. The nominations are made and closed and the officers are in place within minutes.

Third, the order of evaluation of petitions is predetermined. On the top are those known to be the favorites of the bishops. Second are the favorites of the board or agency. Third are those from annual conferences, and fourth, at the bottom of the pile, are those from individuals. That order is followed when the petitions are divided up among the sub-committees that deal with petitions related to a particular paragraph or concern. So every petition is read by someone. If that one person who happens to be reading those from annual conferences and individuals is on the Board or agency sponsoring the other petitions, the prospects of those lower priority petitions are nil.

There are two hedges against losing those bottom petitions completely. One is an active lobbyist who has gotten to key people about their significance. The other is that the Advanced DCA prints every petition. Curious and conscientious legislative committee members will read them and may be motivated to support them.

Fourth, as General Conference is adding more and more Orders of the Day and special events, legislative time for the committees and for the plenary is more and more restricted. Conference rules now include concluding times for such work and allow that there is no requirement for either to finish deciding about everything. Rules 25 and 35 clearly state “legislation not acted upon . . . shall remain unfinished.”

Fifth, by going slow, presiders cut into precious time needed to consider all the issues before them and poor parliamentary work wastes even more time. That works in favor of the petitions on the top.

And sixth, there is the rule that allows no related petition to be considered once a petition on that issue has been passed. See Rule 31 (2).

What keeps General Conference from irrelevance is that good people can work around these rules and practices and still get something important done. While the odds are hugely against that, I have seen it happen at every General Conference.

The only other thing that saves General Conference is that the changes rarely are big enough to make a major difference in what happens at the local church level.

The problem is that there can be accumulative effects of minor changes which finally become significant on Main Street. Every General Conference is up against that and sometimes has the vision to avoid disastrous decisions, no matter how rigged the process is designed to be.

That’s a good reason to believe there is a God.

Apri 25 - A Seminarian

Over the years, I have known some seminaries had a class on General Conference. The professor conducted lectures during the semester General Conference occurs, accompanied the students to the site, held seminars and discussion sessions with various denominational leaders, and then reviewed the students’ experiences. They usually sat together in one of the grandstands.

This year, a seminarian contacted me before coming to Tampa and requested a little time to get acquainted and then to interview me for her class. She was very interested in one of my petitions and wanted to learn more about why I wrote it.

The petition in question called for the denomination to set up a review body that would allow independent examination of past personnel cases. The intent of the petition was to provide what the NTSA and other similar bodies do when there is a tragedy. Such evaluation would allow for rule changes and improvements so that similar tragedies would not occur again.

I have put in similar petitions for many quadrennia with no luck. But I was honored that she was interested.

So we let each other know what we looked like and where we might look to find each other.

We met late Wednesday morning, talked a bit, and arranged for an interview at the end of the week. She and her class would be leaving before the end of the conference.

April 25 - Dr. Chomingwen Pond

I have to break my rule about names. Just as Iva Joyce Hill is a church saint likely to be left untouched by those powers that distrust me (“I’m not really paranoid. It’s the paranoids who are out to get me.” – from a 1970s’ poster), so is the Rev. Dr. Chomingwen Pond one of those kinds of saints.

Chomee entered the Wisconsin Conference the year I was ordained Elder, a status she achieved two years later as the first woman so ordained in what was then the East Wisconsin Conference. Although women had been licensed Local Pastors for many years, she was the first to be a member of the conference with the right to vote. She earned a PhD and taught theology at Payne Theological Seminary, Wilberforce, OH.

A missionary at heart, she served in the inner city of Milwaukee, a native American community in northern Wisconsin, and in Africa. Among her African assignments was teaching at the then newly formed Africa University.

It was she who asked me to befriend the two she knew through Africa University.

Her presence in Florida at the time of General Conference was unfortunate because her brother who lived just north of Tampa passed away and she came down for a memorial service for him. Despite that circumstance, she asked to have a chance to meet the former students and I gladly helped.

My GPS took me up crowded Highway 19 that Wednesday afternoon. I vowed to check maps from now on!

We got back to Tampa by a much quicker route. To accommodate for her arthritis, we found a wheel chair for her at the Convention Center. She kindly took my travel case in her lap and away we went. We avoided legislative committees because those rooms were already crowded. We spent part of the afternoon cruising the display area. She spoke at length with people working on inter-cultural ministries, particularly with Native Americans. She also was delighted to meet the son of one of her former co-workers and discussed United Methodist Development Fund and other GBGM projects with him and other staff.

By then it was time to meet her two friends down in my “office.”

One was unable to join us because of meetings he had to attend as delegation head, credentials committee, etc. The other was there and gave us the rest of his afternoon discussing with Chomee and me his life and ministry. It was obvious from his description of his conference that Africa University had a great impact.

The three of us went to supper and it was his turn to press us for information on various issues before the General Conference. He asked great, incisive questions and pushed us to document our information. Chomee was so proud and I was tremendously impressed. I added him to my list those who will be known as saints of the whole Church soon. (Both of them will be embarrassed with my opinion of them.)

We finished supper in time to head back to catch some of the presentation of “The Call to Action” that was intended to open the discussion of this major proposal coming from the Council of Bishops, the inter-board coordinating agency (the name of which changes quadrennium to quadrennium) and a third caucus, pastors of the mega-churches.

Rather than simply making a motion on the floor to consider the legislative committee report on “The Call to Action,” the gathering was turned into a professionally produced PR program with speeches, multi-media presentations, special lighting effects, and a quasi-worship atmosphere.

Chomee and I looked at each other after about ten minutes of this nonsense, feeling the mega-church pastors had been used, and knew it was time to leave before we either broke out laughing or started making snarky remarks. Chomee never makes snarky remarks.

The Call to Action

While the General Conference finally voted on issues related to The Call to Action days later, this seems to be a good spot to discuss it at length

There are some bishops who feel they are called to the ministry of reorganizing the denomination to fulfill their vision of the Church. If they were the retired ones, I could understand that impulse. And I would be tempted to take them seriously if for no other reason than they were more mature and experienced.

It appears some very bright “young bucks” caught the fever of simplification of structure that has been attempted across the United States but which the Judicial Council has invariably struck down because those plans took Disciplinary authority away from bodies and attempted to give it to others, contrary to the Discipline.

To be clear about what was involved, remember that bishops have been in charge of each board and agency since General Conference was persuaded that those groups needed monitoring to minimize turf fights, rampant expenses, and other bureaucratic problems. A bishop has been president of each and has had the pleasure of a half dozen or so episcopal colleagues on the board with them to help in the monitoring and governance of each body.

So now after all these years under their careful administration and watch, they joined with the Connectional Table (but not all the executive secretaries of the boards and agencies) and some others (successful pastors of mega-churches) to cut the expenses, the staffs, and the independence of those bodies. They called their plan, “The Call to Action.”

It was intended to revitalize local churches and make the denomination leaner but more efficient.

I don’t know whether they were covering up their ineptness for not fulfilling their responsibilities as the presidents of those bodies or whether they actually saw where changes could be made or were just wishing to continue experimenting with structure (often called “re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”) or offering something else to save money rather than their own financial packages or seeking something more Calvinist in our structures so eventually it will be easier to merge with the Southern Baptists. (I’ve been warned that I sometimes say things in cutting ways. That happens when one cannot get a word in edgewise.)

Simply described, The Call to Action sought to eliminate the guaranteed appointment, reshuffle the boards and agencies to make them smaller and compacting their functions, and to gain a set-aside bishop who could help coordinate the ministries of the Church and the Council of Bishops, and to speak on behalf of the Church. It would save lots of money and “we’d all be happy and gay,” as the old camp song says.

And it would finally break the back of those darned kingdoms known as boards and agencies.

If you are following me on this, you are hearing me right if you see I am saying that the Council of Bishops is tired of having their own programming compete for authority and resources with the programming boards and agencies.

There was a challenge to The Call to Action which really was only a little different, called Plan B. It was rolled out early so that the two were the focus of presentations to the press last February.

Both plans were attacked quite widely from within the boards and agencies and from outside. An alternative that had substance needed to be developed and one was, after finally bringing to the table younger ministers and representatives of the regional (central) conferences outside the US (none of whom, it appears, knew the Discipline nor the Judicial Council decisions related to the issue).

It was finally passed . . . in pieces.

The first to be passed was the ending of the guaranteed appointment. More on that below. See May 1 – “Guaranteed Appointment Removed”

The set-aside bishop proposal was not passed. More on that below in “April 30 – The “Set-Aside Bishop” posting.

Something of a merger (Plan UMC) was passed only to be struck down by the Judicial Council on the last day of the conference.

It is a subtle thing but it is my opinion that the Council of Bishops felt it would have more influence over programming if they could influence a group they wanted to make the decisions rather than the ones to whom the Discipline gave that authority. I do not see in JCD 1210 a warning to the bishops to stop taking authority where they didn’t have it. Maybe it is only in the eye of this beholder.

At numerous times over the years, I have warned the Church about bishops wanting more authority all the time in every way they could get it. To me “The Call to Action” was the biggest such incursion I’ve seen yet. I warn you, gentle reader, wait till you see what they come up with for 2016!

In summary, then, the United Methodist Church – 2, the Council of Bishops -1* at the end of the General Conference.

*The guaranteed appointment “score” may be taken away because the Judicial Council has accepted a request to test the constitutionality of its removal and will rule on it in late October.

April 26 - Lobbying

I spent Thursday morning observing the Judicial Administration Legislative Committee. They slogged along parliamentarily. Then they broke up into sub-committees. I tagged along with one and watched one of my colleagues operate very effectively.

Lobbying is done in different ways. His technique included no petitions, providing a supper for legislative committee members at which he explained what actually happens in the judicial and administrative processes, and hanging around with the members of the sub-committee where his own concerns lay.

At the lunch break, I followed him to the Tabernacle, a big tent where Methodists for Social Action met and provided low cost meals. He was there to report on the legislative committee he was observing. He took his seat at the front from where he and others would report, leaving me in the audience area.

I stood there in the midst of “my people.” I’m a progressive, pro-choice, and pro LGBT, though unlike everyone else, I had no rainbow stole. Maybe it was my red coat and my travel case I was rolling along behind me. Sometimes I unintentionally put people off.

No one spoke to me. So I went to Publix, got a salad, and ate it in my “office.”

I tried to access my blog’s dashboard. I had written a number of things and I was ready to begin blogging. But Google had taken over Blogspot and changed things. I couldn’t figure out how to insert text and post.

One of my friends made some suggestions that started me in the right direction but I made too little progress to post anything.

The afternoon was not lost. Some people sat at my table and engaged me in conversation. One was lobbying for associate members and local pastors. He is one of the few concerned about local churches and pastors that I met in Tampa. He impressed me in several ways, what he does as a pastor being one of them. More on that below. He was the one who knew my old friend Richard Wright and he promised to take my greetings to him when they met at annual conference.

I left around suppertime. I missed the special service at which my autonomous bishop acquaintance from Sunday was among those honored. I was sorry about that.

April 27 - My Biggest Impression of General Conference

When I got to Tampa on Friday, red jacket on and travel case in tow, I went to observe the Superintendency Legislative Committee. They were a little more adept at parliamentary procedure but the tempo was terribly slow, not just for the translators but just to get through the business.

I felt no inspiration to stay so I quietly left the room. At the door outside was a page from overseas, from a country I had some knowledge about. I asked her a few questions and she pointed to the person watching the other door, saying I would get some answers there.

I addressed my questions to the other one guarding the main entrance to the committee room and learned things I had not ever known or considered before. Most of that came when she described her tasks back home for the church. I knew the American church was organized, “To Beat the Devil,” to quote the name of a book on Methodism in the US.

She gave me the title of all the different positions and tasks she had. I recognized the titles but was stunned to realize her third-world country had all the elaboration ours had! She spoke of ecumenical relations which included Catholics and Islamic groups. They are so far ahead of the US, it seemed, than I could have imagined.

My view of the resources, the sophistication, and the range of ministry in countries outside the US changed rather abruptly. When it came to competence, breadth of responsibilities, and insight into the workings of the United Methodist Church, she was far more than a peer. She outclassed me!

Talking with her reminded me of a conversation I’d had with an African delegate following their orientation session Sunday. He argued for the current anti-homosexual stance in the Discipline very cogently. Instead of challenging his understanding, I asked what he did for a living. He said he was a physicist, a scientist running his own business. He was articulate, American-like in assertiveness, and clearly at home in international circumstances.

Again, he was more than a peer. He was multi-talented, globally aware, and could hold his own with anyone I knew.

Those moments shattered any sense of paternalism still operative in my psyche.

Sadly, that aspect of my psyche took that same hit as if I had not already learned it when I had discussions later with other foreign delegates.


I have no idea what that will mean in the long run other than it will probably lead to Regional Conferences, changing the shape and scope of General Conferences in the future. The dominance of the Church in the United States is coming to an end. Even dependence on our financial strength will end as countries like Brazil, Angola, and Korea will be able to step up.

April 27 - "Misrepresentation"

After lunch on Friday, I checked the rules for General Conference and found the one on “misrepresentation” I had found in 2008 and sent the following brief note to my contacts, staff, friends, and board.

“Were you aware of Rule 8 (p. 75 of the handbook) which says,

‘No delegate who has the floor may be interrupted except for a point of order, a parliamentary inquiry, a point of information, TO CHALLENGE A MISREPRESENTATION (emphasis added), or to call attention that the time has arrived for an order of the day.’"

I didn’t know if that would make a difference. To my knowledge it was not used by anyone at Tampa throughout the two weeks. But who knew that it might not be used when I sent it that afternoon. Plenary sessions were on the horizon and someone might be glad to have Rule 8 pointed out.

April 28 - The Seminarian

Legislative committees were winding down on Saturday, many having finished handling the petitions assigned to them. I was late getting to Tampa and had two appointments, one at lunch with the seminarian and the other at suppertime with a one of the translators who wanted to discuss pension rights with me.

The seminarian was surprised I was not a lawyer. She expected that because of the kinds of petitions I had written for this year’s General Conference. She asked about how I got started in advocacy, the association of which I’m a part, and how I came to write so many petitions. My answers satisfied her and what she said she needed for her report to the class.

I asked how it was she was interested in my petitions. I learned that someone close to her had been poorly treated and she had been old enough to understand how the Church had operated and how that differed from her reading of the Discipline. She hoped she would be able to help somehow to improve how personnel were handled in the Church.

Then she addressed another concern she and the rest of the students were watching closely, the possible end to guaranteed appointments.

“That was written in 1956 to protect women clergy,” she said.

I did not remember that from seminary which was just a couple years later. I thought it related to the age old Methodist practice of “A church for every pastor and a pastor for every church.” I found out later that she was right.

“Frankly, as one of my classmates put it, we’re really scared. The male candidates who are Caucasian will have fewer problems. It’s we women and ethnics that are most likely to be on the list to be left without appointment,” she said.

I offered that Cabinets are under obligation to the Discipline to include women and ethnics on an equal basis and have been assured by superintendents I know that such prejudice would not be the case.

She said her class has been meeting with superintendents and has become aware that Cabinets have lists on which they prioritize the pastors in the order of their progression for appointments. The top ones are in the “A” section. Women and ethnics are in the “Z” section.

“But you still want to serve in our denomination?” I asked.

“I was born and raised a United Methodist. I cannot imagine serving in another faith, though many of my classmates are actually aiming to do that,” she said.

She packed up her notes and papers, offered a sad smile, and headed out to write up her assignment. She stopped, turned, and thanked me for the interview and conversation.

I told her I hoped she and her classmates were having a good experience and I wished her well.

Now I was scared for that whole generation of future clergy.

Update: Not only did the removal of the guaranteed appointment occur but the General Conference did not ease the requirements to become clergy. In 2008, young pastors and seminarians came to General Conference wearing artfully designed caps that looked like spotted owls. Their caps brought to the session’s attention problems young seminarians faced. Maybe the spotted owl device should have been tried again. Even the African caucus could not bring about the desired change in 2012.

April 28 - Following Up

I spent Saturday afternoon following up on my conversation with the seminarian. She had wondered about the breadth of my petitions and a number of other matters so I took time to forward many petitions and other documents to give her that background information.

I was also working on other communications as I waited to speak with a translator at supper time. He did not come.

Lobbying is like that once in awhile.

Update: On the subject if lobbying, something came to my attention long after General Conference when I finally sought out specifically what happened to each of my 66 petitions. I guess my attitude of "casting bread upon the waters" caused an unfortunate misunderstanding. Twenty nine of my petitions were assigned to the Judicial Administration Legislative Committee. When I found what happened to each of them, I noticed a time stamp on when each was voted on by the whole committee. Twenty were dealt with between 3:30 and 5 pm on Friday, the 27th, when I was in my "office". Of the four friends, two observers and two members of the committee, none contacted me that my petitions were being discussed. The time stamps indicated the rest were voted on at times I was on site on both Friday and Saturday.

Note to future lobbyists: make sure that your contacts keep you posted about when petitions about which you are very concerned are going to be discussed.

And in case you are curious, every petition I submitted was not supported in any of the legislative committees and all but four disappeared into the consent calendar. I have yet to find four petitions I sent in among those printed in the Advanced DCA. I should have discovered that when the ADCAs were first posted on line a couple months before General Conference.

But with individual petitions no longer being welcome thanks to the May 3 vote to end the right of people to send in petitions directly, my style of lobbying may have gone the way of the goony bird, which fits the image I got of my efforts from assorted colleagues and critics in Tampa.

April 29 - A Low Tire

Sunday is not a time to have a bad tire. By the time the WalMart garage, the only open one I found that morning, would have finished checking my low tire, I would have gotten to Tampa in time to turn around and head home again.
I missed the chance to have supper with delegates and friends from Wisconsin, something I really wanted to do.

As it turned out, staying home was what I needed physically. I napped, mowed the lawn, and got exercise in the YMCA pool, something I missed during the week.

April 30 - Judicial Administration Petitions

Midas took care of my tire the first thing Monday morning and I got to Tampa only an hour later than usual. Pulling my travel case and wearing my red jacket, having gone through my entry routine, I headed for the plenary floor. One of the delegates from the Judicial Administration Legislative Committee came over to the edge of the bar of the conference and beckoned to me.

“Our committee dropped the Committee on Investigation for clergy but replaced it with one of your main concerns, verification of accusations,” she told me.

“CoIs never really did investigations,” I responded.

“Right,” she said. “Now conference chancellors who have at least beginning legal knowledge about the nature of evidence and validating complaints will be part of the initial response so that before there is any formal legal action against a pastor in the church, reasonably competent help will be given to be sure the complaint has merit.”

“And that means the chancellor can be called as a witness by the defense and cross-examined and probably can’t be assistant church counsel?” I asked. That had been a particular bone of contention in a recent trial I worked on.

“That’s what I understand,” she said. “When you see the legislation, some of your other ideas were included even though your specific petitions will appear in the DCA under non-concurrence.”

She said that conference chancellors meet every year for training and that working on evidence would be a topic of review as part of those meetings. “I think there will be better verification of accusations in the future. We kept the Committee on Investigation for bishops, deacons, and laity because those categories rarely are ever exercised. I thought you would want to know about all this,” she concluded

I thanked her sincerely. I wish all my petitions had been integrated into the new legislation that, she told me, would be on the consent calendar and probably pass before the end of the day. But I’ll take any victory I can get.

While I have seen a reconstruction of the work of the committee and was unable to find anything else I may have influenced, I await the final publication into the Discipline. None of it goes into effect until January 1, 2013.

April 30 - Observing the Plenary

I found a place to sit in the stands on the side. To my left was the section where the press sat. Beyond them toward the front were where bishops’ spouses and other dignitaries sat. Toward the front on our side was where board and agency officials sat, easily accessible should someone on the dais call them up to answer questions.

Across the plenary from me were three stands extending from the front of the huge space to the back. At the back of the plenary were two more stands for visitors.

The plenary space included the round tables. Actually, they were oval in shape and the delegates sat only on one side facing the front. Unlike the tight space between the tables that cramped the Fort Worth plenary, people were able to move more easily between the rows. Pages could much more quickly distribute earphones for translation when the batteries failed or the earphones otherwise broke down.

But that added space meant that the presiding bishops had great distances to have to cover to see delegates who wanted the floor. While no one in the front had binoculars, as I suggest, bishops helping the presider were assigned to watch particular sections for those seeking the floor.

One innovation that helped was the use of three colored cards. Rules require at least two statements for and two against before a vote. If a delegate wanted to speak for a motion, the green card was held up. Against, the orange card was used. For parliamentary matters or special privileges, a white card was used. That facilitated the debate from the floor . . . but I think the presiding bishops still should have had binoculars!

April 30 - Layout of the Plenary

The plenary groups its chairs and tables into four sections of equal size. Two are in the front with a big center aisle and two side aisles. The two groupings of chairs and oval tables in back have the same center aisle and side aisles.

Each of the groups contained eleven rows of six tables each, with six delegates at each table. The tables were spaced so that delegates and pages could go between rows without having to go to the end of the row.

At the “four corners” in the middle of the plenary is a circular table which was used in various ways, but mostly for the daily communion service.

Access to the tables was from entrances at five places on both sides and one in the center in the back. Marshals (volunteers like the pages who came at their own expense from all over the world) monitored each entrance to allow only delegates on the floor. Pages sat inside near the various entrances to be available to help carry messages, ear phones, or other things okayed by the conference to the delegates.

April 30 - Preparing for General Conference

Three weeks before Tampa, I had ordered a copy of the 2010 United Methodist Directory as part of my pre-conference preparation. I figured that since I was hauling it and my Discipline around with my computer and miscellaneous other stuff in the travel case I was pulling everywhere, maybe I better start doing some of that pre-conference preparation I had put off.

I had little patience with the plenary so I spent time that Monday going back into the pre-conference reports, finding and logging the numbers assigned to my petitions

I read through the Plan of Organization and Rules of Order for the 2012 General Conference, much too late to seek to get them changed to be more democratic.

I found that I could not account for four of the petitions I sent in. I know the petitions secretary and have all the confidence in the world in his integrity. But it was way too late to ask him to restore them for consideration. I sent him a note asking if he would let me know what happened to them after General Conference when he was done with all he had to do.

Shoulda done my homework weeks before coming to Tampa…. It’s all my fault that the American UMC is going to hell in a handbasket. I didn’t get my finger in the dike in time.

April 30 - The "Set-Aside Bishop"

I mention my discussion with a European bishop in a post below (“Incompetent Pastors”). I met him the afternoon of April 23 and was very impressed with him. He shared what it was like to be a bishop in his Central Conference, how very different the Church was in each of the countries to which he has been assigned. He displayed the same kind of warmth, attentiveness, and curiosity I experienced with the bishop from an autonomous evangelical Methodist denomination in Asia. Let me say it again. It is people like them that give me hope for the Church.

I brought up the idea of setting aside a bishop as sought in The Call to Action.

He said he thought it was a necessary role because there were so many things that needed more attention than just what could be provided by the secretary of the Council of Bishops and the ecumenical relations role held by a retired bishop.

I asked, “Don’t you think such a position sets up the possibility of a future holder of that office assuming the role of Pope for United Methodists?”

His reply was immediate and urgent: “The other bishops would not stand for that!”

We may never know. The General Conference voted down the idea this time.

Let me give you four words about the implications of a set-aside bishop.

The first word is “elaboration.” Sociologically speaking, institutions tend to elaborate, get more complex, as long as they have resources. It appears that the Council of Bishops which takes very seriously Wesley’s saying about the world being his parish, envisions their body as the primary bearer of that mission.

Bishops travel the world for a wide variety of what appear to be valid reasons, visiting mission stations, establishing relations with autonomous churches with a Wesleyan background, connecting with Central Conference annual conferences for mission and resourcing special projects, etc.

Bishops have chosen themes and projects for the denomination to emphasize and resource.

Bishops have developed four focuses to direct our denomination’s ministries.

The Council of Bishops is a hotbed of great ideas needing expression and financing. The more they meet, the more they generate all these programs that will serve the world and the denomination. That’s a lot of talent and insight to put in one room and not find more things to do than can be done.

That’s elaboration.

“Insularity” is the second word. When such a body gathers frequently, its members develop strong and lasting relationships. Those relationships become more important simply because they are with important people. The effect becomes circular and mutually gratifying, leading to the development of a self-conscious elite or in-group.

That in-group very quickly becomes subject to Group Think, the frame of mind in which there is no need to listen to others from outside the group because the group has such wonderful perception and experience and insight. They are too bright to be wrong. They do not really need anyone else’s input.

Insularity means that little attention needs to be given to others outside the group because there is less relational energy available for the group’s members to share with others. They really only need each other.

That’s insularity.

The third word is “power.” Such a potent group, sitting with such wonderful ideas and sense of world mission among such excellent people, needs to express those things. To do it, they need authority to move resources, people, and finances around to fulfill those things. Unless those are already at their disposal, they need to bring to bear any power they have as a body to do the politics needed to give them what they seek.

By inserting themselves into the legislative and judicial processes as far as they are allowed to go, they can add to their administrative authority and take control of what they need.

That’s power.

The fourth word is “coordination.” Since each bishop is spread pretty thin with Council of Bishops efforts and programs as well as their own jurisdictional (regional) and annual conference responsibilities, no one can really coordinate all the efforts needed to obtain their goals. A set-aside bishop is a necessity.

A single person who can organize the various talents and skills of the Council of Bishops’ members would be extremely valuable to help the body function in its desired manner.

That’s coordination.

The General Conference closed that door. But with so much energy, the Council of Bishops will try to find another way to achieve their calling. With all those godly people involved, it must be a calling from God.

Didn’t Reinhold Neibuhr write a book about that phenomenon, MORAL MAN, IMMORAL SOCIETY?

April 30 - Judicial Council Election

Four positions, two lay and two clergy, were open this year. Three of the four who have completed their eight year terms were nominated. Layperson Jon Gray, the court’s vice president, retired. Two were re-elected, layperson Beth Capen and clergy Dennis Blackwell.

I fully expected that the president Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe would be re-elected because she has been a gracious, experienced, and effective leader. What was surprising to me was that she was not re-elected.

What was not surprising was that the African Caucus went for two of their own, Rev. Dr. J. Kabamba Kiboko of Southern Congo and N. Oswald Tweh Sr. of Liberia. Both have very impressive credentials and experience, Rev. Kiboko getting her PhD from Iliff, lawyer Tweh his degree from Harvard.

There are now three Central Conference members on the Judicial Council.

Lay alternates are Sandra Lutz (East Ohio), long-time member of a wide variety of general and jurisdictional bodies, and Kurt Glassco (Oklahoma), a criminal judge.

Clergy alternates are Rev. Tim Bruster (Central Texas) GCFA and Perkins Executive Board, etc., and Rev. John Harnish (Detroit) GBHEM/DOM, trustee of colleges and seminaries, etc.

Elected president (the new members were present) on the Council is Rev. William Lawrence of Perkins. Vice president is lawyer Angela Brown from California, and secretary is once again Rev. Belton Joyner. Sally Curtis AsKew is continuing as clerk.

Whatever you may think or hear about the right or left leanings of the new court, it will be dynamic. Part of that is dependent on the issue, though there may be no telling based on past records since overseas members have access to more information than ever before. Part of it is dependent on which delegates do not run into visa problems. And part of it depends on how many of the alternates participate on a given docket item.

It will be an interesting quadrennium.

April 30 - United Methodist Insight

My intention to help the editor of the electronic publication United Methodist Insight (http://um-insight.net) with reports on things she would not be in Tampa to cover herself the first week disappeared down that golden street. When I saw her Monday afternoon, I apologized.

She said not to worry about it but to write about what caught my eye.

What a relief. That’s what I did. Who knew what story would present itself?

In fact, one that really moved us was only hours away, when I had supper with the other African delegate Chomee had asked me to meet.

An African on Homosexuality

(Written on 4/30 and published in UM-Insight on May 2, 2012)

My African friend is very proud of his sons.

I hated to do it but I said, “There is a good chance one or both of your younger sons is homosexual.”

“That is not possible,” he replied. “I am not rich and do not intend to send them to school in the west, no. Besides,” he said, “their uncle, when it is time, will teach each one to be men and the adults who live around us will correct him if he misbehaves.”

I reassured him I had science to show that as a woman goes through a birth, her hormones change a little. And at the time of birth of the younger sons, her hormones have changed so much they affect the hormones of the newborn. Scientists have noticed that homosexuality tends to occur after two or three births. The correlating change that appears to cause it is the mother’s hormones changing.

I also reassured him that the study was not done of Africans but of western families and there may be biological differences that do not work the same way there. And there is some evidence that it may be genetic. The science is not completed as yet.

He said his experience with homosexuality was that it appeared only in young men from wealthy families who went to Europe or America for college or work and came back with the lifestyle. They found it to be the style of life that was "the 'in' thing." When they return to Africa, they throw their money around and influence younger men that they would be in style if they practiced homosexuality. And many young men like the money and attention.

I told him of my experience in New York City that there were many young people going into show business or other arts in which the dominant personalities were homosexual and so the younger people felt they had to be so in order to get a job and work their way up in those professions. I said that I knew many people who did not choose their orientation but had been so since their childhood.

He had not had that experience. He explained why he thought there was homosexuality.

“The way it all began was with the king and queen a long time ago, perhaps Roman times maybe longer ago than that,” he said. “For their personal safety and the protection of those ruling the nation, they could not sleep together. One assassin could kill them both if they did, ending their rule. It would not be right to express their sexual needs with servants of the opposite sex. There could be babies, yes. But they could ask a servant of the same sex to join with them to relieve their needs. And that is how it all started.”

I thought that sounded more like an origin myth than a historical explanation but he found it very understandable and applicable to the homosexuality of which he was aware.

“They are all wealthy and have lived in the west,” he repeated, “and they chose that style of life. No, my sons will not be homosexual.”

He went on. “In my country, we look upon them as sick, as addicted just like alcoholics. But we do them no harm. The African way is to never draw blood. We would never kill them. I was astounded when I heard about how Americans are violent against homosexuals when I came to Fort Worth four years ago. In my country, we treat them like we treat everybody else. We eat with them, shop with them, do nothing to harm them. We wait until they are ready and then we work to heal them like we would any other addict. We even buy their CDs if they are talented. One singer went abroad and came back different, a sex change operation. Everyone knows but the singer is so talented we just enjoy the music.”

“So the only homosexuals you know about are made by man,” I said.

“We do not think God makes a mistake, no. We have only seen the rich sons who choose for social reasons to take that life style,” he said.

“The most important thing you say is that in your country you would never harm a homosexual,” I said.

“Never, no!”

“But,” I asked, “what about as the small towns and villages where everyone knows your business and watch as your children begin to age and die? What is happening in the suburbs and cities?”

“That is happening now,” he said. “We will see.”

“May I say again that maybe your youngest will be homosexual. That is how many came to a new understanding.”

“That has yet to be our experience. In the meantime, we cannot go back to Africa and say that The United Methodist Church is for homosexuality. It will hurt our mission.

“But,” he added, “I will give your words some thought.”

April 30 - Holy Conferencing

I came from the discussion on homosexuality with my African friend with my head still spinning. Would my LGBT friends realize how their efforts appeared to my African friend?

They had no inkling why Africans voted at Fort Worth last General Conference against moderate and positive language about enlarging the circle to take in homosexuals.

My LGBT friends tended to think in terms of pure homophobia or poor Biblical exegesis or votes bought by the gift of cell phones and free meals as the only reasons.

I really hoped the dialogue would enlarge beyond stereotypical thinking and delve into what the experience, tradition, and reason of third world delegates were.

Monday night, the delegates were divided up into regional groupings to practice Holy Conferencing in anticipation of the floor debates to come on homosexuality.

I observed the African delegation once again, spotting my two friends, and having a good location on the front edge of seats for visitors.

I happened to sit next to a UMNS reporter that I had met briefly in the press room early the week before. We chatted as the delegates gathered and exchanged ideas and concerns on a wide range of issues. We hoped the session would pay off but we both knew that the value of such practices depended on the questions asked to trigger the discussions.

There were to be four for the delegates to discuss around their tables. The groupings appeared to be of people from the same conference or language. There were earphones to translate the statements of the leaders and the questions.

My heart sank when I heard the first question: “What are the advantages of being a world-wide church?”

If I were African, I’d think the following, based on what I had seen so far these two weeks: It is easier to identify the problems rather than the advantages of trying to be a world-wide church, like the asking of questions that might mean something to westerners but don’t translate into our own language. We don’t need talk. We need help with developing schools, colleges, and seminaries. All we’re doing here is words, words, words. We want action.

The reporter and I returned to exploring things of mutual interest we had not yet chatted about. It appeared that is what happened among the delegates.

The second question was similar. ““What needs to be strengthened to maximize our fruitfulness and faithfulness?”

How do you answer such a question? What fruitful actions are we talking about? What constitutes faithfulness? How does this question engage people on a level where holy Conferencing draws on their human experience and faith systems?

The reporter and I shook our heads and chatted away just as the delegates seemed to be doing at some tables. At others, we saw frowns and confusion and no conversation. The practice did not seem to be going anywhere.

The third question was this, “How can we honor each others’ differences while we strengthen our unity?”

Which differences? What kind of unity is there beyond being United Methodists and still talking to each other and working together? Is there a problem you want us to consider which is causing disunity?

The discussion at the tables tapered off pretty fast.

The fourth question thus was asked nearly right away. “How can we move toward more equitable sharing of power and representation around the world?”

That one did not connect with the delegates, as far as we could tell. Most of the tables chatted briefly and then turned toward the leaders wondering what was next.

At that point I had to leave so I would not be driving my hundred miles too much after dark.

I hope some Holy Conferencing started after that but unless the leaders had more relevant questions with real specificity, the exercise was futile. Didn’t anyone know about Norris Sanders’ book CLASSROOM QUESTIONS or any of the work at the University of Chicago on questions and the nature of thinking?

Let’s hope the team that put that evening’s exercises together does a serious evaluation of how it went and what might have worked better.

The evening did not appear to have helped anyone to be ready to face the difficulties of the next few days’ plenary debates.

May 1 - Guaranteed Appointment Removed

The Council of Bishops has been deeply concerned about incompetent pastors and removing them because they were the obvious cause for the malais of the denomination. Every bishop, foreign or domestic, raised the question with me, “What do we do about incompetent pastors?” See the posting below entitled “Incompetent Pastors.”

Having worked with many pastors identified as incompetent by their Cabinets over the years, I saw that those who were really incompetent got removed sooner rather than later.

Those who were competent either walked away, wiping the dust of the UMC off their shoes as they walked out the door, or stayed and fought. The bishops had a hard time with the latter.

They had judged the pastor and now the pastor was disagreeing with them! That shouldn’t happen. No one should disagree with as Christian, hard-working, and conscientious a person as their bishop.

Why should the system slow down the process of removing them outright, especially in “right-to-work” (right to fire-at-will) states? Bishops have the authority to fire-at-will Local Pastors simply by not giving them an appointment.

That kind of power is needed to unload pastors who are too old (50 or older males) so that women and ethnics can replace them. That kind of power is nice to have to deal with the ones who are not loyal to the bishop (those who raise question at conference, advocate for a pastor in trouble, or disagree openly or in writing with something the bishop says or does).

For this General Conference, the bishops again sought the right to remove incompetent pastors by seeking an end to guaranteed appointments for the ordained members of annual conference. The presumption is that then the bishops would not have any more problems and the church should wax strong again, unencumbered by lousy pastors.

That Tuesday morning, the legislative committee and then the General Conference gave the bishops the removal of the words “guaranteed appointment.” And in effect, the legislation allows bishops to choose to place an Elder into a part-time ministry or to not appoint a pastor at annual conference.

BUT NOT UNTIL AFTER JANUARY 2013 when the new Discipline goes into effect.

But there are two things that the bishops did not ask for. One is that the legislation has been referred to the Judicial Council for consideration of its constitutionality which will be ruled on in late fall. I expect a very carefully thought through decision from the Council since Dr. Lawrence is a real Discipline wonk and will not allow any carelessness to be featured in the decision. And I will not predict what that would be.

The other thing the bishops did not anticipate, as I understand the legislation, was that while a pastor can be put involuntarily on transitional leave for up to two years, the Cabinet then has to document why that pastor may not then return to be appointed. They could not get away from having to prove incompetence sooner or later.

Practically speaking, they can dump a pastor any time they want. They do already, contrary to the Discipline. But some pastors are pretty motivated by unjust treatment and will follow all the options they have to fight what they see as unjust. If they don’t walk away the first week, being out for two years will not stop their seeking to return to full appointment status. The confrontations and processes have only been put off.

If the Judicial Council feels the change is unconstitutional, the bishops are right back where they started from.

Will any of them learn creative imagination to re-examine their presumptions and find wiser and more Christian alternatives? Will they realize their own role in discouraging pastors into unenthusiastic ministry?