Friday, May 4
Michael Watts speaking during a May 3 plenary session
Thursday, May 3
Delegates and visitors gathering in the plenary hall Thursday morning were ushered in by the singing of the Cardinal Singers from the Red Bird Missionary Conference. Choir members, decked out in bright red robes, energetically sang for Christ.
The business portion of Thursday, May 3, began with presiding officer Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton from the Pittsburgh Episcopal Area reminding us of the importance of holy conferencing, stating that in our discussion of issues that were to come before the body we must "maintain unity of the spirit and a bond of peace."
Several items of business were enacted during the morning session, including
• supporting a measure to direct United Methodist boards and agencies, annual conferences, and local church groups to consider the school schedules of young people when planning meetings and events;
• rejecting a motion to set a time for discussion of a petition directing the General Board of Church and Society and the General Board of Global Ministries/Women’s Division to withdraw membership in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice;
• voting to change the name of Lay Speaking Ministries to Lay Servant Ministries; and
• recognizing two General Conference delegates who were hospitalized May 2. Jessica Ireland, Iowa Conference, was struck by a car—driven by another General Conference delegate—while walking back from dinner.
Aside from acting on many items, the body also became entangled in trying to work through language around the issue of human sexuality.
After more than an hour of passionate debate and clear disagreement, two items stating Christians have different opinions about homosexuality were not approved by the 2012 General Conference, leaving the current language in The Book of Discipline intact.
Paragraph 161.F of the Discipline states: “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”
The Rev. Adam Hamilton of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., and the Rev. Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg Church, Tipp City, Ohio, proposed a substitution for part of the paragraph that sought to clarify that United Methodists disagree on whether homosexual practice is contrary to God’s will and urged unity over division and respect for coexistence. Their substitution would have replaced the last paragraph of a petition submitted by the Global Convocation of Young People after its 2010 conference.
Jen Ihlo, a Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference delegate, worked on the Church and Society Legislative Committee’s subcommittee on human sexuality. She said there was lengthy debate about where the church is on homosexuality.
“This petition represents that compromise; it states our positions are vastly different,” Ihlo said. “I am a lesbian and a child of God. I strongly urge the body to adopt this compromise so gay youth will recognize the church loves them and the pain will stop.”
The Rev. Maxie Dunnam of the Kentucky Annual Conference spoke against the substitution saying, “I see no reason to state that we disagree. If we’re going to state what we disagree about, we might as well put that as a headline on our Book of Discipline.”
The vote on the Hamilton-Slaughter substitution defeated it 441-507, and the main motion failed 368-572.
As time for the mid-morning break came, members of Reconciling Ministries, the Methodist Federation for Social Action and others led by Common Witness Coalition, a gay-rights group, gathered within the bar of conference.
Upon reconvening, presiding bishop Mike Coyner from the Indiana Annual Conference asked the protesters to clear the bar. When they did not, he cancelled the rest of the morning session. Protesters stayed within the bar of conference to sing and serve communion throughout the break.
During the break, a group of bishops met with the protesters and worked out a compromise where one of the protesters would be allowed to pray for the gathering from the dais and then the protesters would leave peacefully.
After that, the business of General Conference got back on track.
During the lunch break, the Cardinal Singers sang again, this time in the lobby of the convention center. Corbin District Superintendent and his wife, Terrie, were among those enjoying the singers. As the Cardinal Singers were finishing their selections, the Lake Junaluska Singers asked to join them onstage, and the two groups performed a gospel song together.
Business in the afternoon plenary sessions included approval of the restated Clergy Retirement Security Program, which combines a defined benefit component with a defined contribution component. Delegates did not approve a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed General Conference to designate a committee to reallocate funds between sessions of the quadrennial gathering.
The day ended with worship service. The theme of the night was "Feed."
Rev. Debbie Wallace-Padgett, candidate for the episcopacy, addresses SEJ delegates.
Wednesday, May 2
On May 2, the 2012 General Conference approved the realignment plan called “Plan UMC.” It realigns the 13 general agencies of the UMC. A request was made for a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council on whether any part of the structure plan is unconstitutional.
Delegates also voted on two petitions related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The body defeated a minority report to divest investments in Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett Packard until those companies end their involvement in the Israeli occupation. Delegates voted to reaffirm a resolution opposing Israeli settlements in Palestinian land and added a clause affirming “the church’s commitment to non-violent response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and (acknowledging) the need to hear the voices of all those – Muslims, Christian, and Jewish –– harmed by the conflict....”
Read more details in the UMNS wrap linked below.
Kentuckians at General Conference
Tuesday, May 1
Tuesday was a busy day for the Kentucky delegation, both on the floor of the conference and outside of the plenary hall. Legislatively much was debated and voted on, but one of the most surprising pieces of legislation that passed was the vote about "guaranteed appointments" for clergy. The surprising fact was that the proposal was brought to the floor as part of a consent calendar and was passed as such.
After passage there was an attempt to lift the item from the calendar but that effort failed. So the 2012 General Conference voted to discontinue guaranteed appointments for ordained elders. Bishop Lindsey Davis understands that there will be some anxiety going forward.
"I want the clergy in Kentucky not to be fearful about this process; we are going to do this carefully and methodically, as Methodists tend to do,” Bishop Davis said. “We are going to have lots of conversations, and we'll try to implement it in a very careful way.”
Dr. Tom Smith, Director of Ministerial Services, spoke about the reactions to the legislation that he has seen so far, "I really thought it would be divided along age lines, but some of the young clergy here are upset with it and some of the young clergy here are applauding it. I think it goes both ways." Dr. Smith went on to point out that being in ministry is unlike most other positions that one may hold. "This doesn't change anybody's call. People do this not because they have security of appointment but because God's called them to this ministry."
Tuesday also marked the day that Southeastern Jurisdiction (SEJ) episcopal candidates introduced themselves to delegates from the 13 SEJ conferences. Seven of the 14 candidates spoke on Tuesday and the remaining seven, including Rev. Debbie Wallace-Padgett of Kentucky, will have their turn on Wednesday.
The body also celebrated the adoption of the full communion agreement, which was voted on Monday, with six other Pan-Methodist denominations. The United Methodist Church is the last of the denominations to adopt the full communion agreement. Bishops from two of the other denominations and a representative from a third joined in the celebration during the afternoon plenary.
In other legislation, delegates opposed a longer preamble proposed for the Social Principles by a legislative committee. They agreed with a minority report that affirms “our unity in Jesus Christ while acknowledging differences in applying our faith in different cultural contexts as we live out the gospel.”
Voting 532 to 414, delegates added a clause, “We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s grace is available to all – that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”
Some delegates argued against the added sentence saying that belief and action can separate us from the love of God in Jesus. Others suggested that there is a difference between God’s love for all and human response to that love.
Delegates also revised the Social Principles statement on abortion to say, “We mourn and are committed to the diminishment of high abortion rates.”
Churches were encouraged to support “crisis pregnancy centers and pregnancy resource centers that compassionately help women explore all options related to unplanned pregnancy.”
The body also voted to create a new episcopal area in the Congo.