2012 General Conference Delegation Report

Bishop Hutchinson, Provost Cottrill, and Members and Friends of the Louisiana Annual Conference:
One year ago you elected twenty-four of us and sent us out on a journey on your behalf – a journey that would require intense preparation, perseverance, and prayer. We are grateful for the support, input, and encouragement you all have offered along the way.  

Before we newly named delegates left to travel home from Shreveport last year, we began organizing to form and function as a team.  Legislative committee assignments were made and other roles were determined.  We would meet in person as a delegation nearly half a dozen times between last year’s Annual Conference and the General Conference session a month ago, stay connected electronically and by phone, both with each other and networking with delegates from other conferences, and travel for various other preparatory gatherings from Oklahoma City to St. Louis to Tampa in anticipation of our work. Besides the extensive legislative materials, we also read the Adaptive Leadership Series of five books by Abingdon Press, and met one day to consider the larger questions and concerns facing our Church today and how proposed legislation might relate to them.

Last December, we were among the first delegations to respond to and to endorse the Council of Bishops' statement on the Call to Action, an initiative which had both reflected and set in motion much of the dialogue and discussion leading up to General Conference toward restructuring and seeking greater clarity of our purpose and direction as the United Methodist Church. The restructuring proposal and its alternatives all failed to make it through the legislative committee. A compromise plan, which passed in the plenary session, was declared unconstitutional by the Judicial Council, as reported on the final afternoon of the General Conference. 
One of our delegates reports: "I was struck by how incredibly difficult it is to get consensus of all the different factions and groups at General Conference to get any new things done or any major legislation passed.  I was impressed by how incredibly diverse our church is: diverse in theological perspectives, ethnic groups and cultures, economically, and areas of ministry emphasis.  I was impressed that though we wore different clothing and spoke different languages and ate different foods, we were united in our faith in Jesus Christ.... General Conference for this first time delegate was both frustrating and exhilarating at the same time."

Throughout this Annual Conference session, you have already heard numerous references to major General Conference issues and decisions, particularly restructuring and pensions (which restated the Clergy Retirement Security Program with a slight reduction in benefits and an adjustment to eligibility for participation). The delegates from more than 60 nations (40% outside the US) considered 1,200 petitions and took the following actions:
·         Adopted a $603.1 million budget for 2013-2016 (that total is 6.03 percent less than the 2009-2012 budget);
·         Through the adopted budget, funded $5 million for Central Conference theological education and $7 million for a young clergy initiative (and a stronger presence of youth and young adults, and Central Conference delegates was felt throughout the General Conference);
·         Retained the church’s position regarding homosexuality, deciding not to adopt language that would have said United Methodists are not of one mind on this issue;
·         Did away with “guaranteed appointments” for clergy (currently under Judicial Review);
·         Fell short of the 2/3 majority needed for setting aside a bishop to serve as full-time president of the Council of Bishops; and
·         Approved making the United Methodist Women an autonomous organization rather than its operating under the General Board of Global Ministries.
If you wish to track the outcome of particular legislation or further details on these, please go to www.umc.org and you will find several different ways to track in more detail the actions that were taken and decisions that were made. Our Louisiana Delegation blog, www.laumcdelegation.org, gives highlights of major actions taken. Here we splashed our feet into the waters of digital and online presence, noting highlights of the journey from time to time, with frequent posting during the General Conference session.   This presence partnered well with the expanded digital nature of General Conference itself, as live streaming and twitter feed kept connections awake and buzzing not only in Tampa, but anywhere folks were following and joining the conversation.  We have heard from many of you that you were checking in closely and watching what was happening, even participating in the feedback and conversation. 

Keeping such a global church connected is indeed a challenge. My experience in the Superintendency Committee, which I was honored and humbled to chair, was a microcosm of other aspects of the Conference. In this committee alone, with 62 delegates, language interpretation was required in seven different languages besides English. At times we had to slow down our conversation just to make sure everyone was able to follow where we were and what was being said.   Taking time to listen and clarify was a spiritual discipline necessary for our working together well. 
Language and cultural differences were not the only challenges. Holy conferencing was emphasized and practiced to remind us of our larger framework as a body with many gifts and perspectives.  Seating delegates at round tables was a new plenary format designed to encourage our interactions with one another, and especially with members of other delegations. Another of our first-time delegates shares: "I went to General Conference wanting to be a part of a change, a part of the growth of the United Methodist Church.  During my first committee meeting I realized so did a lot of the other people.  It just wasn't the same change I saw." This delegate then reflects on a night that the entire plenary shared a love feast.  During that feast a neighboring delegate shared his bread with this delegate and said, “I wish I had your passion.  I might not always agree with you, but I wish I had your passion."

Throughout the days of roller coaster emotions, from heartbreak to hope, we were re-grounded in holy life-giving presence through worship services centered on the transformation that occurs when we reach out to God and to one another.  The waterside Convention Center in Tampa was a perfect setting for encounters with Jesus in scripture and questions for the people of God today.  Each delegate was presented with a hand painted blue silk stole to remind us of our calling and the ways we are covered and linked in prayer on this journey.  Imagine, if you will, a thousand delegates, gathered around a central table (much like we are here), who are draped in blue, as though just emerging wet and freshly washed from the waters of baptism!

It was welcome "lagniappe" for the Louisiana delegation to be met with familiar faces who were key players in the overall workings of the Conference: Lane Cotton-Winn completed her several years of service as a member of the Commission on the General Conference, and was leader on the Committee on the Agenda and Calendar.  Darryl Tate also served on the General Conference Secretary’s staff as he has done more than once before. Both Lane and Darryl could be found on the platform for most plenary sessions. Richard and Frances Hooton have now served as marshals in such an outstanding way for so many quadrennia, that they were asked to coordinate and oversee the whole team of marshals for this General Conference. Stacy Hood's visible presence with the musical team leading worship made those already beautiful services feel like we were "back home." In addition, our own Kirby Verret was present for the “Act of Repentance toward Healing Relationships with Indigenous Peoples,” a ceremony unique to this General Conference session. Several other persons from Louisiana attended for a particular event or to observe. The “Dulac Cross” from the Louisiana Conference was a central focus as the processional cross for the plenary worship throughout the conference.
You have seen several persons wearing blue stoles today. Serving as delegates in Tampa were: Sarah Kreutziger, Andy Goff, George (“Buzzy”) Anding, Pat Day, Olivia Pruett, Larry Miller, Pete Aguila, Bernadine Johnson, Carolyn Dove, and myself. Reserve Delegates who attended and served were: Edna Hickman, Katie McKay Simpson, Terrel DeVille, Fred Wideman, Rachel Scott, and Donald Avery.  Now joining these delegates will be additional Jurisdictional Delegates and Reserve Delegates for our continued work as a Delegation: Rob Fairly, Ramonalynn Bethley, Larry Stafford, Juan Huertas, Anita Crump, Lynn Malone, and Henry Stamper. 

We are mourning the sudden loss by death of one of our delegates whom Bishop Hutchinson also named at the Memorial Service this week.  Tim Hebert, Jurisdictional Lay Delegate, died unexpectedly on March 4, 2012.  Tim was a talented and dedicated leader in our conference who gave generously of himself to the delegation, including being instrumental in establishing our delegation blog.

As our team organized last fall, for the first time in recent memory the Louisiana delegation used a discernment process for lifting up potential Episcopal candidates from Louisiana.  This process led to the delegation’s endorsement of Fred Wideman, Senior Pastor of Broadmoor UMC in Baton Rouge, who has joined nine other endorsed candidates from other conferences, in traveling around the jurisdiction for interviews with other delegations, and networking for countless conversations about our Church’s calling and next steps on the journey.   We are now turning our sights toward Jurisdictional Conference, which will meet in Oklahoma City July 18-21, primarily for the purpose of electing the new bishops who will serve conferences in the Jurisdiction.  We covet your continued prayers for our days just ahead, and for all who will be gathering from 15 conferences which include Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, and New Mexico.  By Saturday, July 21, we should know who has been elected and who will be our newly assigned Bishop as of September 1.

We pray that in all we have been about as YOUR delegation, and in all we have yet to do, that we may be guided by and faithful to the mission of the church that we are called to follow and live as redeemed, connected, and growing disciples of Jesus Christ.
Respectfully submitted,
Ellen Alston
Lead Clergy Delegate
Louisiana Conference Delegation
June 6, 2012