All voting members of the 2019 Minnesota Annual Conference Session were asked to attend a pre-conference district gathering to learn the practices of respectful conversation that will be used on Wednesday, June 19, and to discuss an aspirational vision that will be brought to annual conference in the form of a legislative item (Item 100). If you haven't yet attended a district gathering, there are two left and it is not too late to register for one. You can view Item 100, Item 102 (a statement regarding the Traditional Plan), and other pieces of legislation here. Meanwhile, here are the answers to some questions frequently asked at the gatherings that have taken place to date.
If Item 100, passes, what does that mean for us as an annual conference?
Item 100 is an aspirational vision of who we want to be. It will offer direction to the leaders and members of the annual conference as we live and lead into the future in the form of values we seek to hold and understandings to ground our ministry. The vote totals will help us sense how much we are in agreement about a shared vision and values, and the conversation will allow us to hear one another about what has meaning for us. One annual conference session cannot bind a future annual conference session, so next year, we could pass legislation that says something completely different if we so choose.
If Item 100 passes, does that mean every church now becomes a reconciling church?
No. A reconciling church is a church that has chosen to make a public statement about its commitment to the full inclusion of persons identifying as LGBTQIA+. They join an advocacy group called Reconciling Churches. Item 100 is simply an aspirational statement of the annual conference session. It is not mandatory for a local church to embrace this document. But it does create space for each clergy and congregation to have dialogue about how this vision resonates with them and how they might choose to live it out in their unique setting.
What happens if we pass Item 100 and not Item 102, or vice versa?
Nothing. They were submitted as two separate items, so it is possible one could pass and the other could not. Some people might not want to go on record as opposing an action of the General Conference (Item 102) but find the aspirational vision compelling. Some might not agree with the actions of the General Conference but feel the aspirational vision is not reflective of where they think God is calling us as a church.
Why were Items 100 and 102 not considered together in holy conferencing?
They were submitted as two separate items. The intent was for Item 100 to be a positive vision for the future (who we want to be) and for Item 102 to be a strong statement reacting to General Conference 2019, as many people have expressed a desire to say or do something in response to it. Item 102 is about who we do not want to be. When we were designing the annual conference session, given the realities of the current church, we thought the most helpful thing we could do right now as an annual conference was to clarify our vision and values as a church. When you have a clear sense of who you are, it becomes easier to make decisions about what to do. Wednesday of annual conference was built so as to provide multiple ways of conversing about a shared vision. When Item 100 was submitted, it seemed a good platform for holding up a possible vision and seeing whether it fits our sense of how God is calling us. Therefore, we decided to use Item 100 as the way to engage in conversation about the future, and holy conferencing fit well the way we wanted to craft a respectful and holy conversation throughout the day.
Why Holy Conferencing on Item 100? Doesn’t that limit people from adding their voices to the vision?
It is true that parliamentary procedure would allow for amendments and changes to the document. But that process with a document of this nature is often unwieldy and ultimately unsatisfying to the body. We spend time debating and voting on each little amendment, and then moving on to the next. The intent with Item 100 is to talk about the item as a whole and decide: Is this generally reflective of who we are and how we are called to be church? The goal is not to perfect it and enshrine it for all time. It is simply a statement for now and an invitation to move into this identity as we live together. Holy conferencing actually gives more people a chance to speak to the vision and share their heart without being bound to formal statements for or against it, or speaking to a specific amendment. Another reason to use holy conferencing is that it is more consistent with John Wesley’s original intent for annual conference sessions. We were founded on this practice and principle, not Robert’s Rules of Order. General Conference 2019 showed the limitations of Robert’s Rules in helping us listen to one another and God. We want to create a different environment at our annual conference session.
How do we keep the conversation respectful and make sure we do not do harm to one another?
We will have trained facilitators who will guide our process. Respectful conversation guidelines will be on every table. In a final conference materials email sent out on June 14, we will send out some useful tips for collaboration and conversation in environments where there is diversity and difference. We asked you all to attend a pre-conference district gathering so you could learn about respectful conversations and practice. It will be up to each of us to create safe and sacred space, and that means carefully choosing our words and listening well to one another.
Can we take a ballot vote on Item 102 as well?
Yes. If someone wished to propose this, they could ask to be recognized at the microphone before the debate is concluded and make a motion requesting a ballot vote. The motion would require a second, and if the majority of the body votes in favor, then a ballot vote would be taken instead of a hand vote. If you are thinking about making such a motion, giving someone on the platform (Bishop, Conference Secretary, Director of Ministries) a heads-up is helpful so we can be prepared to administer that process.
We are ready to move into some new expression of The United Methodist Church that is fully inclusive. Can’t we just decide to do that now at this annual conference?
A new expression to go to hasn’t yet been formed, even if we were all in agreement and ready to do that. Conversations are happening all over the church. Many feel the soonest we will have some clarity about what is next for The United Methodist Church is after General Conference 2020. Our best strategy is to stay informed about the movements and conversations happening in the general church and continue to build consensus and alignment in the Minnesota Annual Conference around our shared vision.
What if we want to change how a particular piece of legislation is handled? For example, we want to use holy conferencing for another item, or we don’t want to use holy conferencing for Item 100?
When we approve the legislative agenda at the beginning of the annual conference session, that is when the body could be asked to change the recommendation of the Sessions Team. A couple of considerations: Holy conferencing is designed to give a set amount of time to a piece of legislation. So if you do not want to talk at length about an item, the best way for that to happen is for it to come to the floor, for nobody speak to it, and then to vote on it. However, there is no time limit placed on action items, so if you move Item 100 out of holy conferencing, we could spend more than the allotted 40 minutes amending it and debating all the amendments. Holy conferencing ensures that after the allotted time passes, we vote and not require the body to call the question in order to close debate.
Will there be presentations from various advocacy groups such as Minnesota Methodists, UMCNext, Our Movement Forward, and the Wesleyan Covenant Association?
There will not be formal presentations to the entire body during the plenary sessions. Each of those groups will have a resource table where you can go to ask questions and have conversations. The reconciling breakfast on Wednesday will share the latest from UMCNext and Our Movement Forward. Additionally, pieces of the overall conversation may be shared in Clergy Session and Laity Session. The best way to stay informed about these movements is to follow them on social media and/or subscribe to their e-newsletters.
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