By Rev. Carol Zaagsma
Opening worship kicked off General Conference 2016 with a Spirit reminiscent of Pentecost, despite the calendar suggesting the 50th day after Easter is still five days away. I looked for this worship service to set the tone for the next 10 days.
We were first blessed with native song and drumbeats likened to the heartbeat of the Creator. Then Kathryn Jones Harrison, former chair of the Grand Ronde Tribal Council, greeted us. At 92 years old, she observed that the Creator made us all different colors and sizes, but our hearts can beat as one. Then she welcomed us to the land that was, as she gently but firmly reminded us, “our place originally,” and prayed we would get the blessing here that we came for.
We sang “Alleluias,” heard remnants of “To God Be the Glory” on the organ, and sang “Holy, Holy, Holy” in four different languages, one for each verse. We heard Matthew 28:16-20 in many languages. We prayed aloud the prayer Jesus taught us, each in our own first languages. Throughout worship, the words rose up to match the diversity visible in the room. After worship, we were inspired by Erin Hawkins of the General Commission on Religion and Race, who acknowledged that “going and doing” is one of our strengths. She then suggested perhaps our biggest challenge may be going and doing “in here” (gesturing in the room), or “in here” (gesturing in our hearts). She also encouraged us to hold our neighbor’s story with as much honor as we hold our own.
After all that, I was poised to see great things happen.
But then we turned our attention to the rules. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought the Spirit left the room. We’ve forever used rules to govern our process. The Rules Committee has spent the last four years imagining adjustments to the standing rules that might alleviate the problems from prior conferences. I believe rules are important in providing structure—a necessity with 864 voting delegates from around the world. But I also know that the ensuing debate can be an early indicator of how legislation will be approached later.
After several hours of concern over using a new electronic queuing system to identify delegates who wish to speak, debate over which of the 44 rules to vote on at a time, attempts to remove some of the rules so they could be amended and voted on separately, and questions about which set of rules we were currently under given the proposed rules hadn’t been adopted yet...after all that, the body ended up adopting all but one of the rules just as they were originally presented. Debate on the remaining rule, which by all indications is far more controversial than all the others combined, will have to wait for another day.
Perhaps Erin Hawkins was right. Our biggest challenge may be “going and doing” right here. But then again, Pentecost is on the way.
Rev. Carol Zaagsma is an alternate clergy delegate to General Conference. She serves Portland Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church