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Up Close and Personal with the S.C. Delegation

Here, we get one-on-one with members of the delegation to learn their take on General Conference, their personal committee work, the impact of issues on South Carolina and how they are feeling the Holy Spirit at work among the body.

Interviewers: Conference Communications Director Matt Brodie and Advocate Editor Jessica Connor

Getting Personal with the Rev. Kathy James
S.C. Clergy Delegate
Committee: Independent Commissions

Q. What has your experience been like as a delegate in general and day-to-day?
KJ:
 This is my third General Conference, and it has been wonderful to be in Tampa. … So far it’s been a good experience. I have served on the Independent Commission legislative committee, which looked at Commission on the Status and Role of Women, General Commission on Religion and Race, United Methodist Men, Communications and many others. Most notable is that we were able to bring to the plenary to vote to be in full communion with the Pan Methodist denominations – the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Methodist Protestant, those denominations with whom we have a historic relationship with our common Methodist heritage. Now said, we are in full communion with them. We recognize their clergy and they recognize ours. It was fun to be a part of that process.

Q. For South Carolina, how does this Pan Methodist communion affect us?
KJ:
 What it could mean is if we are ever in a situation where there was a UMC in a small town and they didn’t have a pastor and an AME Zion church in town, they could have one pastor.
It’s sharing resources with clergy.

Q. How’s everything going so far at General Conference?
KJ:
 General Conference is a world unto itself. We get to see the UMC at its best and the UMC at its less than faithful, and I guess what I mean is you cannot be Methodist and don’t think God cannot work through political processes, but just about every vote we’ve had is 55-60. We are pretty divided in what are our priorities. We are unable to pass any legislation that calls for a two-thirds vote, but that’s probably not a bad thing when you don’t have consensus. I heard earlier that a compromise means everybody’s unhappy about something. I like to think when we come for General Conference we can get consensus. I think there is a difference between consensus and compromise, and we are doing a lot more compromise than in past General Conferences.

Q. Is there anything that has surprised you so far?
KJ:
 I’m surprised there is not more capacity for consensus. Many votes are so close. Maybe it’s always been this way, but I don’t remember it being like that. I have received some tweets and Facebook posts saying, “We’ve been praying for you,” and my response is, “Don’t stop, because I do believe God is present here. I don’t believe we can do this on our own. We need those prayers.

Q. Have you felt the Holy Spirit at work?
KJ:
 The Holy Spirit is what gets me here and keeps me here. The schedule is so rigorous, the time for reflection so brief, that (we couldn’t get through) if God’s breath was not sustaining us at all.

Q. Have you noticed any moments of levity and humor?
KJ:
 Humor is one of our coping mechanisms that gets us all through. In committee, Herman Lightsey and a woman from another conference started teasing each other, and she was saying about me, “She’s in here to keep you straight.” He saw her in the lobby and she asked how things were going, and he told her he was heavily medicated. It’s that friendly banter about things unrelated to General Conference (that is so helpful).

Q. What is your sense of the mood of delegation?
KJ: 
There’s some real concern among clergy folks related to the fact that we were not able to have conversations about legislation with guaranteed appointment. It’s very frustrating. I think there has been some relief there has been a restructuring proposal passed. There is some concern among some of the delegates regarding the structure changes related to the GCORR and GCOSROW … but people I’m sitting next to are ready to get through and plug through legislation. People say, “We’re here to legislate and why are we taking so much time to do other things? We are the church and we should worship, but we have an awful lot of legislation to get through.”

Getting Personal with Liz Patterson
S.C. Lay Delegate
Committee: Church & Society 1

Q. What has your experience been like as a delegate in general and day-to-day?
LP:
 This is my second General Conference. We have long days, start very early and go late, with not a lot of breaks. I’m on the Church & Society 1 economic justice committee. I was on that in 2008 in Fort Worth, Texas, and I felt I was in the right place. I think it has been neat – the chair of the subcommittee is a young adult, the secretary is a young adult, so that brought a new perspective. What always brings warmth to my heart is how we smile at each other even when we disagree. I’m a little disappointed in some of the issues we’ve voted on. I care very much about open doors, open hearts and open minds, and I’m afraid we’ve closed doors to some. But as a whole, it’s been a wonderful experience.

Q. Have you experienced any surprises so far?
LP:
 Not really. When you have this many people together, you’re going to see differences and will have to work out so many things. Just like our legislature in Columbia or Washington, it’s difficult to get over 900 people to agree on something anytime a vote comes up.

Q. Do you have any funny or lighthearted stories to share?
LP:
 There’s been a lot of levity and fun among the delegates. But because of the way we’re seated, we don’t get to know one another. I’m sorry we don’t have more of an opportunity to really sit together and visit.

Q. How does what happened at General Conference affect South Carolina?
LP:
 What we did about the appointment process, no guaranteed appointment, and I think people in South Carolina will have great concerns about it. It will be interesting in how it’s going to be carried out.

Q. How do you see the global church during General Conference?
LP:
 It’s been really fun for me – one of my friends from 2008 is a young man from Britain. We exchanged numbers and emails. It can be a little discouraging because there are many, many languages. I feel a lot of international delegates are not as in tune. They don’t get everything in writing. But I’ve certainly made some friends.

Q. What’s the most positive thing to come out of General Conference so far?
LP:
 I’ve been disappointed in two votes, but even after those votes, I could link hands and say, “There will be another day.”

Q. What is your sense of the mood of delegation?
LP:
 A good portion of our delegation is so excited about Tim (McClendon) being in the episcopacy race, so they are doing a lot of their time talking about that. We are together on many things, but I haven’t been huddling with people saying let’s vote on this or that.

Getting Personal with Michael Cheatham
S.C. Lay Delegate
Committee: Discipleship

Q. What has your experience been like as a delegate in general and day-to-day?
MC:
 You’re up early each day, been in committee meetings during the first week, and now we’re into plenary sessions, where we are debating as a body. It’s tedious at times, time-consuming. I mentioned to someone this morning that we seem to major on the minor. We haven’t gotten to any of the big major issues yet, but we take up a lot of time on what seems to be smaller issues. I wish we could move to the bigger issues, but it’ll take time and we’ll get to it.

Q. What are some of the key issues you are anxious to get to?
MC: 
The bigger issue is the major restructuring of the church and the general agencies. This is going to be a tremendously time-consuming debate. The committee has been struggling with it all week, and we still don’t have a definitive plan we’ll vote on, so the body can’t really study the different plans because they’re not out there for us to consider our options.

Q. What has your committee been working on, and what role have you played?
MC: 
The Discipleship committee deals with lot of educational issues; we didn’t have anything controversial except the proposed name change for Lay Speaking Ministries to Lay Servant Ministries. It has been interesting to hear from delegates from Africa as to how important lay speakers are in Africa. We’ve have a lot of controversy in the United States where people think a lay speaker is a preacher, but on the continent of Africa, lay speaking is one of the first steps people take before going into the ministry.
I’m proposing an amendment that preserves the Office of Lay Speaker, and if it passes, a lay speaker would be a specialized lay servant who has taken extra coursework to train them to be in pulpit supply substitute preaching. Historically, lay speakers filled in for clergy if they were on vacation or out sick. Many times, lay speakers not been adequately trained; some are not gifted or equipped to do that well. This amendment would require that they take a course of study to prepare them to be better preachers; they must take five specific courses.

Q. Have you experienced any surprises so far?
MC: 
It was interesting that we spent so much time talking about term limits for our bishops and spent little or no time talking about guaranteed appointments for our clergy.

Q. How does what happened at General Conference affect South Carolina?
MC: 
I think a lot of what goes on here has global implications. It’s difficult sometimes to see how certain positions are going to filter down to the local church or even the Annual Conference, but a lot of what will go on this week will affect us – apportionments, how money used for global ministries – and these are the kinds of things that will eventually affect us.
A lot of what is happening here is going to play a big role in the future of the church and, yes, in South Carolina because we’re going to be dealing with this guaranteed appointment issue quickly. That’s going to affect the local church and clergy families and will be a burden for us to be attentive to help an ineffective pastor to strengthen them up. That’s a task.

Q. What have the protests been like?
MC: 
By and large the demonstrations we’ve experienced so far this week have been calm; somewhat dramatic but not disruptive. They’ve been a little more calming. With the homosexual lobbies, as we were walking out yesterday afternoon, they were all laid out on the floor prostrate, pretending to be dead, that the church was killing them. One African delegate turned to me and asked, “What does this mean?” and I had to answer, “Quite frankly, I don’t know.” In 2004 Pittsburgh General Conference, you could not walk through the hallway without encountering demonstrators and people handing out flyers about homosexual rights. This year, it’s more the Kairos and divestment issues so far.

Q. Have you made any new friends?
MC: 
I was able to make contacts with some folks around the country and some even around the world. You get a better appreciation for the global nature of the church. We’re not just a United States denomination, we’re worldwide, and I’m always impressed with that.

Q. Have you noticed any advantage or disadvantage to being lay versus clergy delegates?
MC: 
No. In our delegation and our committee, lay and clergy delegates equally participated. We don’t wear different kinds of badges; they look the same. You don’t see any distinction.

Q. What is your sense of the mood of delegation?
MC: 
It’s all over the map. Our backsides have been tested because of the length of time we’ve had to sit, some of the lengthy programs we’ve had to endure. I like to think some of these experiences have been inspirational. We tend to get bogged down in minutia, and some of the programs have been rather lengthy when they could have been more timely.

Getting Personal with the Rev. Susan Leonard-Ray
S.C. Clergy Delegate
Committee: Faith & Order

Q. What has your experience been like as a delegate in general?
SLR:
 Before you come here, you have all kinds of hopes, thoughts, imaginations and possibilities that impact you – the excitement that comes with being asked to serve the church in this way. You are honored, humbled. To come and hear about a global church, to read it in our Discipline and know it cognitively, is something, but to experience it – wow. I found myself beside a Russian delegate with translator. Behind him was a seminary student from Haiti and the chair who convened was from the Ivory Coast whose translator was helping him talk to us. In that moment, you know you are part of the global church.

Q. What is the day-to-day schedule like/experience as a delegate?
SLR:
 Certainly, General Conference has a rigor about it – the work of the head, the heart and the body. Mornings start early: breakfast meeting at 6:30, in your seat at 8, a nice lunch break and an evening break, then the evening ends at 10, and then you’ve got to do it all again. It’s a rigorousness: not just time and pacing, but all that time is thinking time. The decisions before us matter, not just for what we’ll do in one local church for next year, but as a global church for next four years.

Q. What has been your impression of holy conferencing?
SLR:
 Holy conferencing is a good Wesleyan word – how do we speak the truth to one another in love? Last week, one of the things I found so interesting is that when we have time and place and are guided in these conversations beyond our continents, there is a real truth.
We had the opportunity to talk about human sexuality. So in that group of holy conferencing, we heard in the language of Swahili our brothers from the Central Conference say, “If you were to come to our country you’d say, ‘Polygamy! What, why, why do men have multiple wives, that is not right.’ And we come to your country and have these conversations about homosexuality and we say, ‘What, why, this is clearly not right.’ Without having these conversations, I would never understand the perspectives of my brothers in faith without that holy conferencing.

Q. Did anything happen last week that surprised you?
SLR:
 With the diversity pieces, it’s one thing to know you belong to a global church, and another to realize what it means to be part of a global church. It means I do not understand polygamy, never even thought about it, but it’s a real issue for those who preach the Gospel in Africa. And our brothers and sisters come here and they see issues of decline, and yet they see issues of growth. You realize the church to which you belong is much larger than the Annual Conference or the United States.

Q. Have you been able to feel the Holy Spirit or the power of prayer at work among the body?
SLR:
 Yes. Last Monday night, the choir was practicing, there were 200-plus voices singing a song written for this General Conference, “God Has Work For Us To Do.” I had walked into the plenary and it cavernous, no one in there, and they were on their feet raising the roof and singing. I could not stay in my seat!

Q. As a GC2012 first-timer, how is the gathering different from what you thought it would be like?
SLR:
 I didn’t have a lot of preconceived notions except that I thought it would be Annual Conference on a larger scale. I didn’t realize how diverse it would be. Last time, 23 percent of the people were from the Central Conference, but this time it’s 40 percent. That changes the conversation significantly. And the cacophony of voices heard in the corridors!

Q. Have you made new friends?
SLR:
 Yes I have. You are intentionally meeting new people because you are preparing to elect new bishops in July, so just that fact catapults the need for people to be talking to one another. Also, in legislative committees, though they last only three days, there is a heavy richness to the conversations there. Breaks are like, “I appreciate what you said about that, tell me more. What are your thoughts?” You find yourself drinking coffee or having lunch with them.

Q. What are you hopes and fears for GC?
SLR:
 I hope that we will find a renewed unity and a passion for the mission of the church. And the mission of the church doesn’t have to do with structure or geographic areas or how we divide them, but the mission of the church is how we will mobilize to make disciples of Christ. I hope we will crystallize around the mission, and that mission will buoy us forward, energize us forward.
My concern is that there is within any system inherently those who position themselves for or against any number of issues. My fear is, as the week goes on, there will be clearer divisions.

Getting Personal with Carolyn Briscoe
S.C. Lay Delegate
Committee: Superintendency

Q. What is the day-to-day schedule like?
CB:
 In the first few days, we were meeting in sessions, got into reports, went into committee work, working 8 in morning until 9:30 at night. We had some fellowship time with members of the delegation, and just getting together with other people and beginning to develop relationships with them is an imp thing. This is my seventh General Conference, so it does not differ greatly from the others I have experienced.

Q. What did your committee work on (Superintendency)?
CB: 
My committee had to do with district superintendents and bishops. I served as a member of the General Conference task force and was one of the members on the leadership team for the task force, so this gave me a very different view of a full-time president of the Council of Bishops. Up until that time I thought it wasn’t necessary. However, having heard from so many of those who served as president, and how much work it requires of them, I felt strongly we should vote for a full-time president of the Council of Bishops who would be freed from residential responsibilities in an area. Some people question what could this person possibly do that would require it to be full time. There is travel to do, problems that arise in the world (not just USA), they have to carry on regular functions in working to set agenda, preside at meetings, coordinate the work of the council already. Bishop Larry Goodpaster talked with us and mentioned how many times he had to be away from his own conference…the time needed for correspondence and phone calls; inquiries and requests that came to the council just on a day-to-day basis.
Once the legislation came to the floor (today), it was defeated. It had been a narrow vote in our committee. So that means Bishop Rosemarie Wenner will be the president of the council and will have to carry out all the responsibilities in coordinating the work, as well as taking care of situations and problems that might arise – and for her that would mean a tremendous amount of travel and time.
We talk about having a person who will be recognized as a face of the conference. I think that there is some benefit to that because persons can look to that individual. But I would caution us to remember that only General Conference can speak for the UMC, and even though that person would be the face of the UMC … that person would not be speaking beyond the scope of those legislative matters passed in General Conference.

Q. Why should South Carolina’s United Methodists care about what is happening here at GC2012?
CB:
 So much of the time it’s like, ‘You went, you did this, what did you really do?’ One of the things important to me is that those who are delegates here go back and interpret what happened here. There are some issues that will affect the church. We need to be a part of helping the church understand; otherwise we wait until it comes out in the Book of Discipline. … It is important that we be aware of matters that affect conferences and particularly help local churches (become more aware).

Q. Have you been able to feel the Holy Spirit or the power of prayer at work among the body?
CB:
 Yes. In the worship services, that has been particularly true. In the music we experience, in hearing the different voices and different languages and knowing even though we come from different cultures, even in the United States of America, we still have the unity in that we worship and worship deliberately.

Q. Have you seen a lot of protestors at GC2012?
CB: 
Not a lot; some. We will always have some. There may be a time, an attempt of persons protesting to come into the bar of the conference, and that has been an uncomfortable kind of feeling. But persons are free to express themselves and to make their voices known, and all the groups in a sense protesting have voices that are speaking for them within the body of the conference. I hope all delegates will listen to what people have to say and make decisions on what God is calling them to do in this 21st century.

Q. Did anything happen so far that surprised you?
CB:
 I thought (the Sunday night, April 30, event) recognizing the different areas of the church was very good until it went unreasonably long. And the Advance really got the short end of this. The offering was taken, and maybe a third of the persons were still in place, though there were a few faithful South Carolinians who stayed until the end. I thought that would have been a program that would have been timed carefully… it made what was a good solid presentation viewed negatively because of the length of it.

Q. What else has impressed itself on you during your time at GC2012?
CB:
 I’m proud of South Carolina and the work we have done, the way our delegation is working together. As we do not feel compelled to vote alike, we are open to sharing our opinions…. I think this is a very strong delegation and I am very pleased to be a part of it.

 

 

Getting Personal with the Rev. Ken Nelson
S.C. Clergy Delegate
Committee: Ministry and Higher Education

Interviewers: Conference Communications Director Matt Brodie and Advocate Editor Jessica Connor

Q. What is your impression of the first week?
KN:
 There’s been a lot of conversation the first week around major issues related to The United Methodist Church, specifically the structure of the UMC, whether to realign boards and agencies, move to a non-residential set-aside bishop, shorten the length of the ordination process, move away from guaranteed appointment. Delegates have been working diligently over the week to reconcile 1,000 pieces of legislation. We’ve had a good week, though weary from reading legislation. The real action comes to play on the floor this week, as we consider all the work that comes out of the legislative committees

Q. What are big issues and how might they impact South Carolina?
KN:
 Lots of things are coming up that might have impact on South Carolina: security of appointments, clergy effectiveness and ineffectiveness, how do we faithfully ask clergy who are less than effective to find a way to gracefully exit the system, how to streamline the structure of the church and ask whether we are using financial resources to the best of our ability so local churches don’t feel a burden. … (Bottom line is)What does the future of The United Methodist Church look like? Is it a church filled with young adults and youth? Will there be space for older adults? How do we be a global church and continue to do ministry?

Q. Can you relate a silly story from GC2012 so far?
KN:
 Last night, the worship celebration went on four hours! I teasingly said the Oscars don’t last as long. And we never did come to a conclusion.

Q. What is the day-to-day schedule like?
KN:
 Last week, it was getting up at 6 a.m. to be out to breakfast by 7:30. At 8, work started for most legislative committees and ran until 9:30 at night. It was 12-hour days in legislative work, with breaks for lunch and dinner, but it was good to be in fellowship with the people of South Carolina. And it is wonderful to be in a global environment.

Q. Did anything happen last week that surprised you?
KN:
 In the holy conversations, it was the realization that The United Methodist Church speaks with a multitude of voices. At least there is an attempt to continue moving forward and find places where we can continue to seek reconciliation. That, alongside the Service of Repentance, was a powerful moment.

Q. Why should South Carolina’s United Methodists care about what is happening here at GC2012?
KN:
 Leadership makes all the difference in how strong a congregation is; it impacts a congregation directly. And the structure of a denomination impacts a denomination directly. The work is larger than any one congregation.

Q. Have you been able to feel the Holy Spirit or the power of prayer at work among the body?
KN:
 The times I’ve particularly felt the presence of the Spirit have been in conversations with people with whom I’ve differed: to be able to recognize that another person’s been created in the image of God, and they want what I want, and to realize that while at times we don’t agree on matters, God is in the midst asking what’s the next step forward.

Q. Have you seen a lot of protestors at GC2012?
KN
: I’ve seen lots of groups that want to make sure voices heard. They are all people who love God and are seeking to express how they’re voice can be included. It is important for all voices to be at the table. It can be tough when you’re walking through the gauntlet (entrance to General Conference), and people are handing you things. You have a choice: ignore them and pretend they are not there, or engage and listen to them.

Q. What else has impressed itself on you during your time at GC2012?
KN:
 Probably the most sacred moment for me was seeing the impact of the No More Malaria campaign and realizing we are committing to something that really can change the world; it’s significant.

Q. What did your committee work on (Ministry and Higher Education)?
KN: 
We worked on the ministry study and security of appointments, including early ordination. The ministry study is the call for church and whether or not to move to early ordination. The committee voted down shortening the ordination process because they thought it would actually slow the process down in full for students. So what was intended to be a way of shortening the process didn’t end up shortening the process. As part of that, we listened to a lot of young adults, including informal surveys. We’ll see how the general body votes, but that needs to be studied some more.
The security of appointments legislation passed the committee – that is the move away from guarantee appointments to say we would take seriously what it would take to evaluate effectiveness… The committee called for creating a new status called “transitional leave” under which people would be placed (while they discern their next path).

Q. What is the mood of the delegation at this point?
KN:
 There is some concern about the fact that we didn’t approve a structure coming out of the legislative committees, some frustration. But once we move toward the close of the week, things will speed up even more, and I think you can pass some very bad legislation if we try to do things too hurriedly. There is a sense we all need to sit back, relax and trust the Spirit is working in our midst. … I don’t remember a time when the issues have been more critical than they are now. What’s most at stake is both the unity of the UMC, but also what does the future look like for the church? Will this be a time when we stand together? … Will we continue finding a way to survive instead of finding a way to thrive?

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