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Plan UMC: Rookies, Restructuring and Reflections

By the Rev. Richard Reams

Editor’s note: Reams is one of two young S.C. pastors who attended General Conference but not as delegates. They both ended up playing a significant role in parts of the Plan UMC dialogue and were part of the team that created the PowerPoint and chart that was used during the May 2 plenary session.  Here is his perspective on the experience.

In a time when our denomination seems more fractured and partisan than ever, the last thing that is needed is some type of polemical article about how things should have gone, or who is to blame for what did/didn t occur, or what could have happened if people listened to me.

That is not what this reflection is about. It has nothing to do with selfish gain or building an ego. What follows is an honest reflection on my experience with Plan UMC, General Conference and our church leaders.

I am 27 and a provisional elder. At the coaxing of my wife and friends, I made a last-minute decision to fly to Tampa, Fla., to observe and learn from our great General Conference.

On April 30, I walked into a room “ the now infamous back door dealing room #24 “ looking for a friend to see what kind of dinner plans were in the works. I knew denominational leaders were gathered in there working tirelessly on a compromise plan for restructuring, since all died painfully during the General Administration session Saturday evening.

My friend, the Rev. Josh McClendon, had been brought in as what I thought to be technical help in developing presentation slides. When I arrived, we talked briefly about some basic slide layout and background for what could be conducive for information yet attractive to the viewers. As the minutes ticked by, I realized I may be out of place since I m no delegate or reserve or staff. I m just a visitor. So I spoke up to Tim McClendon, and tried to excuse myself, I don t want to intrude on your meeting, especially if it s private. I was just looking for Josh. Sorry.  Tim looked at me and said, Richard, according to Para. 721 of the Discipline, every meeting is an open meeting. You don t have to go anywhere. 

So I sat back down, unsure of my place but very interested in this Plan UMC. As discussions were had, I listened and observed. I asked questions when appropriate and answered my own by reading the plan for myself. After a couple of hours, I was somehow now part of the PowerPoint team for Plan UMC. We were given the material and asked to put it into a presentation for General Conference. The goal was to deliver a rough product for the next morning to be reviewed with the presenters.

Josh and I, along with two other young people, stayed at the convention center that night until 2 a.m. We designed slides and helped translate certain parts of the plans language to refrain from unnecessary red flags. We also designed from scratch the chart found on PlanUMC.org. We met the next morning with the main group of legislators and they were ecstatic. We spent close to 15 hours on Tuesday perfecting vocabulary, changing slide position, explaining why certain slides were there or why we chose particular symbols. As numbers were clarified or friendly amendments discussed, we built potential slides into the back end of the presentation just in case they were needed. We worked hand in hand with the presenters to clarify content, transition points, and iron out any flaws in the presentation.

Somewhere in this day, it hit me that I m working with a group that may change the face of the denomination and all I can think is how? Don t they know I ve got a P in fron
t of my E? Why are the interested in me? And yet, they never cared or asked about that stuff. To them, I was part of the team.

Wednesday came and Josh and I were now in the media truck of General Conference waiting on the moment to cue the presentation and walk the delegates of 2012 through the slide presentation. And when the moment came, we did just that. The 32 slides that we created were shown to the delegates after the morning break.

I never imagined when I boarded my flight to Tampa on Sunday, April 29, that I would have played a key role in the presentation for restructuring the denomination three days later.

So why am I writing all of this? As I ve said, it is not to stroke my ego or any other of the PowerPoint team. There is no benefit when egos and reputations drive our motivations and conversations, General Conference has proven that. I write this simply to tell my part of the story.

Over the 2.5 days I was involved in Plan UMC, I watched with my own eyes as leaders from North Georgia and South Carolina talked with leaders from Alaska and Kansas and New Mexico. I saw women sit at the table with men. I heard different voices from the Interim Operations Team and Plan B come together for the betterment of the UMC. I watched as Methodist Federation for Social Action leaders played a part in the conversation. I also saw pain and frustration and anger. Then when the moment came on the floor, personal agendas took over and nothing was corrected.

I was floored to hear such disdain and mistrust from social networking platforms or special interest groups. If the room was closed, how was I present as a visitor? If it was only Southern white males pushing their agenda, why were the Central Conferences on board? If young people were not involved, who made the chart or presentation?

As different questions or amendments were proposed during Wednesday s plenary session, I wish delegates could have heard the conversations that had already happened that were not being addressed. MFSA representatives were invited to be part of the discussion as were prominent social voices. Some choice to disregard the invitation, and others blatantly said GA was a bad experience for us and you didn t invite us soon enough, so we re not interested in talking.

This was in stark contrast to another conversation in the room late Tuesday night. One writer speaking to another said, I ll really owe you for helping with this compromise. Just let me know what I can do.  The other leader replied, I ll cash that in now. Stop telling people this isn t the plan you wanted but it ll have to do. We all compromised for the best possible plan. That s what I believe.  To which the first person paused and said, You re right. I m sorry. 

Where was that honest and sincerity on the floor? That was holy conferencing at its best that no one heard because so many chose to remain outside of the conversation.

The most holy conferencing I saw all week centered on Plan UMC. The worst part is that holy conferencing happened before the plan ever hit the floor and no one is telling that story. It was the only place I saw people from various, diverse backgrounds work towards the good of the body first instead of advancing their political or personal agenda.

My heart was broken when the plan was declared unconstitutional. Sure it hurt because I worked on part of it. More importantly, it hurt to see nine people declare the unconstitutionality of one group holding more oversight than the General Conference. That ruling seems a little ironic to me.

I ve seen a lot of blogs about losing hope in light of GC2012; I do not understand that. Since when has our hope ever been in a conference? I am a young clergy, and I am more passionate than ever about The United Methodist Church.

Am I discouraged? Sure. Hopeless? Never. As long as there are people dedicated to the long hours and holy conferencing that happened in the wee hours for the betterment of the church, I ll be wherever I am needed, doing whatever I can, for as long as I can.

Maybe one day we will set aside the partisan labels that divide and distract. Maybe one day we will learn to live out these famous words: In essentials, unity ¦in non-essentials, liberty ¦and in all things charity. 

Reams pastors the St. Luke/Zion Charge, Walhalla.

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