Leading from the Side
The 2012 United Methodist General Conference has come and gone. This was my fifth such venture, and it was the first–and only–time that I decided to “step out of line” and offer my services for some form of leadership in the legislative committee process.
I took the liberty of sharing my interest ahead of time with the lay and clergy leaders of the delegations in the South Central Jurisdiction. I did receive one response that affirmed my leadership ability. That was encouraging, but it was the only such response. Some of the members of my own delegation did make contact with those on the “Conferences” committee whom they knew, but everybody was busy with the attendant details of preparation for General Conference and these contacts did not seem to generate any interest.
The organizing meeting for the “Conferences” committee took place early in General Conference at the same time as the other twelve committees. I believe that our committee represented the “worldwide nature” of the church at least as well as any other legislative committee. There were delegates from a wide variety of locations, including every jurisdiction in the United States and from conferences in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Germany, Malawi, Nigeria, the Philippines, Russia, Sierra Leone, Sweden, and Zambia.
I thought that I had my proverbial “ducks in a row” for another delegate to nominate me as chairperson, and I was under the impression that I had a back-up plan. However, it turns out that I needed a “Plan C” for my name actually to have been placed in nomination to chair the committee.
As it turned out, we moved quickly toward an excellent choice for chairperson of the committee, the Rev. Guy Ames–a District Superintendent in the Oklahoma Annual Conference. Things continued to move forward, with the Rev. Robert Kilembo of the Zambia Provisional Conference elected as Vice Chairperson.
Then came nominations for secretary, an office I was also willing to fill. I thought that this might actually be an opportunity to be elected, since the possibility of a male–whether clergy or laity–at least went against the grain of the stereotypical expectations for secretaries, whether in the local church or at General Conference.
I did manage to get my name placed in nomination and made the requisite “less than a minute” speech summarizing my interest and experience. Despite being the only male nominee, however, I quickly finished third out of three candidates. Gloria Holt (North Alabama) was eventually elected to that responsibility.
The last leadership choice was for the two sub-committees that would do the basic work and bring a recommendation to the entire committee. Byrd Bonner (Southwest Texas) and Mele Maka (California-Pacific)–both of them with prior General Conference experience–were quickly selected, and I thought that my brief excursion into the possibility of legislative committee leadership was over. However, Mele Make immediately asked me to serve as secretary for the “General Conference” sub-committee, so that is what I wound up doing for the next few days.
The work of a legislative committee at General Conference is a detailed and tedious process that can get bogged down at innumerable points. It took us a while, for example, to figure out whether we were to vote “on the motion” or “on the petition.” That makes little or no sense to anybody who was not there, and the memory thereof is already beginning blessedly to fade!
The first day of legislative work, my responsibilities included reading aloud the petition under consideration. Apparently I have a voice for that sort of thing, although I was asked at one point to “speak loudly more quietly.” Now and then I was asked to provide interpretive context.
Altogether, our sub-committee managed the work that was given us to do. We listened to one another. We learned from one another. We sang together. We prayed together. We learned to wait for translators to do their work.
We were reminded that neither the title of the petition nor the rationale were disciplinary in nature. We disagreed with one another now and again, though never in a disagreeable way. That seemed to be reserved for other committees and for plenary sessions of General Conference the following week.
There was nothing earth-shattering or legislatively spectacular for us to consider. Such proposals were then under consideration in other committees, especially “General Administration,” where there was ultimately an unsuccessful struggle to come up with a proposal for restructuring the general church. We had no such challenges in our committee, and we were able to complete our work in the allotted time.
We did not work without assistance. There were translators, monitors, pages, and a parliamentarian, all of whom contributed significantly to the functioning of the committee. With their assistance, we processed all the petitions given to us–thoroughly if not quickly.
Along the way, I helped to put together a “multi-source” petition that integrated language from four petitions into a relatively coherent whole. Amazingly enough, that is the sort of thing that I enjoy doing! It was that petition which I had the privilege of presenting to the Friday afternoon session of General Conference. It was the first–and last–for me to speak “from the platform” at a General Conference of The United Methodist Church.
No, I did not chair a legislative committee at General Conference. I was not one of the formally elected officers of a legislative committee. But I believe that I contributed in some small way in the work that was accomplished in our committee by means of “leading from the side.”
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