Sitting in the chiropractor’s chair, well “laying” and “table” are more like it – I was talking to him about just getting back from Student Forum Sunday night and then leaving again for Annual Conference next Tuesday. He asked if I frequently travel like this and I said not really, just on school breaks and throughout the summer, but I guess that is a lot more than just not really. So number one – as pastors I don’t think we realize how busy we are and how strange we look to the outside world. And number two – have you ever tried to explain Annual Conference to someone? Much less, that this is a big election year.
So for those that are United Methodist and haven’t been to Annual Conference on an election year and to bore the rest of you to tears, every 4 years each Annual Conference (Central Conference) elects delegates to General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference. Every four years those delegates then go and represent their lovely people and vote on various and sundry things like budgets, foci, resolutions and bishops. Sounds fun, right? As someone I talked to recently wisely said, if you don’t like going to your district meetings or sitting in the sessions for Annual Conference, you won’t like General Conference.
Each conference only gets so many delegates that they can send. Half of these are clergy and half of these are laity. So what are some important things to think about when electing delegates and deciding who to vote for? It’s such a wide range and I guess it depends on what your motivations are for your votes. This will be my first time to vote since I wasn’t ordained until 2007. I am super pumped which probably makes me a way over excited nerd. I’m looking for people that have a good handle on both the intimate issues that affect congregations (and within congregations I’m not just talking about local churches but extension ministries, etc.) as well as the broader strokes of what’s happening in our general church and agencies. I want people that know what’s at stake and the underlying issues and not just what sounds good. Does that make sense? So I’d like these folks to be pretty educated. And very awesomely there is now a course that people can take called “Exploring General Conference.” I’m not throwing around the “experience” word here to indicate that I want us to elect only people that have been before. Not even. But I am saying that we need folks that are actively engaged in the conversation of our denomination and who are actively leading and shaping and learning and discovering.
I also think that it’s very important to represent all of the diversity of our conferences. I have several young clergy friends that are tweeting from various annual conferences right now and hearing how their elections are going has been both fascinating and eye-opening. One of them the lovely (@MegEdmondson) tweeted: #txac clergy: the YOUNGEST clergy elected has GRANDCHILDREN.”* That’s kind of a big deal. So yes, we need to pay attention to all of the diversity that we encompass – race, gender, age, type of ministry, etc. I know I’m probably leaving things out of that list but it wasn’t meant to be all encompassing but merely to point out that we need a multitude of voices at the table. If we believe in the “future” of our church as its “young people” then as both laity and clergy, we need to take that into consideration when we’re voting. Not saying that people that are out of the young adult bracket can’t be strong and amazing advocates for youth and young adults, but there is a different perspective and issues at stake.
I’m one of those weird people that like the full tapestry that is our United Methodist Church. As crazy as it may be with a gaggle of voices at the table, that’s what can make it awesome in the midst. Like a family, we sometimes can shout over each other and stick our fingers in our ears, but if we’re committed to this crazy family of ours, we’ll take the time to sit beside each other and share a cookie or two and actually have some dialogue. (Yes, the cookies offered during the breaks are essential I think to General Conference!) So yes, part of my voting decision is going to be based on how people stand on some of the missional, theological, societal, and practical issues facing our denomination. We’re talking a lot about the Call to Action and indicators and metrics and all that jazz, but we’ve also got to talk from a place of Hope and Spirit and Renewal and Revival. Can’t we live in a world of both/and and not continue in the either/or? Can’t we work our butts off and be faithful in our calling while also following the leading of the Spirit that is sometimes (actually I would say rarely) not all about numbers or statistics? Maybe it’s a chicken and egg idea, but somehow I think that if we are following the moving of the Spirit and we are being intentional in continuing to up the ante and be in ministry doing as Wesley says, “all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can,” then the fruit or the numbers or the metrics will come. And maybe they or a great conference or a wonderful sharing of ideas or a Spirit-filled conversation or retreat of renewal will give us the motivation and inspiration we need to keep stepping forward in faith.
So here’s what I say – before we go to Annual Conference – may we pray for the delegation that we are electing – both lay and clergy. May we all pray for discernment as we cast our votes. May those that aren’t voting be in prayer for a delegation that will fully encompass all that is the United Methodist Church and all of the beautiful work in progress that is.
We need to not just be in prayer for the delegates that we will elect, but for the delegates being elected across the connection. None of us hold the speaking stick alone or keep the megaphone in hand. This wave needs to continue over the next few weeks as we are in prayer for all of our leaders elected and the conferences that are electing them.
You’ve now read what’s important to me in voting and how intentionally I think we need to take these elections. What do you think? What helps make your choices about who to elect? What are the critical issues you see in the UMC right now? What would your ideal delegation look like?
* They have now elected a young clergyperson! Yay! Also to note that Josh Hale (@expatminister) said that they wisely started a pre-balloting prayer from the words of Acts 2:42 – “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers.” I hope that this year’s Annual Conference isn’t all about elections, but it’s also about our learning, sharing, fellowship, sharing in the body of Christ together, and being church with one another. Looking forward to it!