(continued from previous post)
When Judicial Ruling 1210 was handed down at about 4:15 pm on Friday (with the General Conference scheduled to recess at 5 and then return for a two-hour legislative session before adjournment), creative chaos ensued. One of my fellow Church and Society B committee members called for a five minute recess, and a flock of progressives (it’s like a pod of whales) surrounded the communion table. One thing was clear: we had very little time to get a structure in place that would let the church function within the budget that had already been passed, eliminate inconsistencies, and keep any form of the constitutionally unsalvageable and now defunct Plan UMC from resurfacing.
After the five minute recess, the secretary announced that we would recess early for dinner, returning at 7:30, so that the calendar and agenda committee, the Council of Bishops, and other groups could figure out what needed to happen to conclude enough business that the church could move forward.
That’s when we went to work.
Our unofficial caucus group met in a large room. We did not bar the door; all were welcome. We knew other meetings were taking place, and we tried to have conversation with folks that weren’t in the room. We tried to invite representatives from all over the world, although only one international delegation ended up joining us.
Everyone spoke who wanted to. We hashed our possibilities: we couldn’t come up with a constitutionally sound plan to reorder the structure of our global denomination in two hours; there really wasn’t a way to resurrect Plan UMC and amend it into something that we could find palatable (including reinstating COSROW and GCORR); we didn’t want to simply refer Plan UMC because it had already been ruled unconstitutional and would eat up massive resources for study and amendment of a plan that we felt was fundamentally flawed (and we suspected this is what the group supporting Plan UMC would do). This left us with two options: revert to the 2008 denominational structure and somehow try to make it work in the reduced budget that had already passed, or approve the plans that the boards and agencies themselves had made to streamline and come into harmony with the initial findings of the Call to Action reports, and then save further restructure for the four years ahead. By consensus, the group decided this last was the best option.
To make that happen, several legislative things had to happen in very quick succession. The body had already approved a handful of legislation that allowed for some boards to function properly, but now had to bring up, bundle together, and approve several more pieces of legislation from the boards and agencies to enable the rest of them to have streamlined functioning, and then reconcile a few pieces that had inconsistencies.
The larger group disbanded and about ten of us wrote out the plan. I had been taking notes and began typing out an order of approach and talking points. We had an hour.
We wrote the motions for bringing up the legislation and the talking points for why it was important to do it this way: approval of the boards/agencies own plans for independent restructure allows for immediate streamlining while maintaining the functions of each body to do ministries, and leading the denomination into the necessary adaptive change that can take us through the next quadrennium with clear and thoughtful focus rather than hurried scrambling.
We anticipated that there would be a motion to bring up and refer Plan UMC. We strongly objected to this option and wrote talking points anticipating this motion: Referral would delay the option to lighten the burden on local churches because it would continue the structure at the current costs. Further, it would divert the attention, resources and energy of our boards, agencies, and governing bodies from their vital work. Basically, we could hash and study Plan UMC for four years at tremendous cost, or we could get busy making and nurturing disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
We were assured by the committee on calendar and agenda that they agreed, and that the first motion brought to the body would be a motion to consider the plans of the boards and agencies for their own restructure. We were assured this as late as 7:15, when Brad Laurvick took my laptop from my sweaty hands and ran to print and copy our motions and talking points.
Curiously, for whatever reason, that is not how it went down.
When the session reconvened at 7:30, there were people *on the stage and at the podium* who brought a motion to refer Plan UMC. I’d like to think this was a miscommunication. It felt like more than that, but we were deep in politics at that point, so I’m going to err on the side of grace and say we must have had some wires crossed.
Undeterred, our folks jumped down in the talking points and argued against referral of Plan UMC on the basis of its unconstitutionality and the numerous points that we had lifted. And we ran down the clock debating, asking questions, amending and amending. The plan was flawed and unconstitutional. It didn’t in actuality even exist as it had been struck down entirely. It could not be referred. I myself made an amendment that I thought might have helped me feel better about it: that the resulting plan be released prior to all Annual Conferences in 2015, so that those bodies would have time to look at the plan, study it, and offer amendment and suggestion. I felt this would address one of the central problems with the entire process: the lack of grassroots voices and engagement in the future of our church.
But finally it was clear that Plan UMC could not be referred or even dealt with. The presiding bishop was forced to rule that indeed a delegate from the Western Jurisdiction was right: it was unsalvageable and the attempt to refer legislation that didn’t exist was out of order.
We got to the mics. We made our motions. We approved the plans of the boards and agencies and reconciled the inconsistencies. We recessed.
Just before reconvening, I was approached by an older delegate with whom I’d served on committee, and with whom I had frequently—okay always—disagreed, Eddie Fox. Eddie is a man who had previously prided himself of slyly using the parliamentary process to advance legislation he supports and kill legislation he does not. He was not in a good mood. Smiling but pretty miffed, he wagged a finger in my face and said “Now young lady, I don’t want to see you making any more amendments or speeches tonight.” “Why Eddie,” I said, “I want to ensure that we approve the best plan for the future of our church, and that takes time and work, and room for the Holy Spirit. And She moves in mysterious ways.” Smiling tightly and pumping my hand, he wished me safe travels and said he’d enjoyed sharing this “wild ride” with me.
We reconvened, heard announcements, and suffered one last attempt to pull a petition to the floor that would have tried to make the UMC withdraw from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. I scrambled for my speech, but the motion not only failed to receive the 2/3 that it needed, but it didn’t even win a majority.
Joey Lopez, who had been an outspoken voice for inclusion, especially of young people’s voices, had the honor of making a motion to adjourn.
The Coalition met in the tabernacle one last time for communion, prayer, and celebration. Of next General Conference, one leaders said “In Portland [Oregon], we’re going to need a bigger tent!”
Then out to celebrate together with dancing and refreshments. We made a good choice of an establishment, since they were playing Heather Small’s “Proud” (what have you done today to make you feel proud? oh, so so much!) and later some Lady Gaga, and because the delightful human being behind the bar asked to see my ID. Once again, there seems to be a fear that people under the age of 21 are into buying top shelf scotch. I think we need to refer that to a committee for study. I tweeted: “Best. Day. Ever. Defeat totalitarianism. Protect uteri. Outfox Fox. Get carded in bar.
We celebrated together late into the night, side by side with people I have named as heroes and role models and Methodist celebrities, and with friends I didn’t know or barely knew two weeks ago.The outcome felt miraculous. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was. We’d done everything we could, but I honestly believe the Spirit pulled us through. I was just along for the ride.
Later, I summed up what I felt was accomplished to a group of friends via text message:
1. Ministry with families of all configurations
2. Almost exactly what the General Board of Church and Society (hey it still exists!) wanted to say about abortion
3. Kept the UMC in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
4. Avoided a totalitarian power structure
5. Provided basic structure for the church and its agencies to stay in mission
6. Held the line– didn’t get any worse!– on incompatibility and sexuality in the face of the most conservative General Conference ever
7. Met an amazing group of lay and clergy ministers who believe in grace, justice, and a contextually authentic church
What happens next? Where do we go from here? What does God have in store for the United Methodist Church?
I have some thoughts in the weeks ahead, but the door is wide open. It’s up to the wily Spirit, and up to us to follow where She leads us.