By Jessica Brodie
PORTLAND, Ore.—Nearly a year after they were elected to represent South Carolina at General Conference, 16 delegates and their two alternates are geared up and ready to do God’s will in Oregon.
For 11 days, May 10-20, South Carolina delegates will join with hundreds of United Methodists in Portland for the United Methodist Church’s quadrennial legislative gathering, where they will examine, discuss, pray, debate and eventually determine a host of key legislative issues that will become church law for the next four years. General Conference is the only entity that speaks for the full UMC.
“Saying ‘I’m excited!’ underestimates my reaction to the honor and privilege awaiting me at General Conference,” said first-time delegate Jackie Jenkins. “I consider myself tremendously blessed to have been elected to be a lay delegate to General Conference, and I give thanks every day that as one of South Carolina’s delegation, I will be part of the decisions on how we will proceed in the next four years.”
Jenkins and fellow lay and clergy delegates have been meeting monthly since their election last June to be more aware about the issues they will address and how to heed God’s will in the process. Delegates are divided into committees (see list, below) to examine approximately 1,000 items up for consideration, from restructuring the church to limited tenure for bishops to changing the clergy ordination process to the church’s stance on homosexuality (read the current stance: http://goo.gl/6Gxjcz).
The 864 delegates from around the world will ultimately revise The Book of Discipline, which regulates the manner in which the church is organized; revise The Book of Resolutions, which declares the church’s stance on social justice issues; approve plans and budgets for church programs; and elect members of the Judicial Council and the University Senate.
As South Carolina’s delegates prepare to do God’s will in Portland, many have expressed prayers, hopes and expectations about this year’s gathering, including a fervent call for fellow United Methodists to keep them in prayer.
Delegation chair and episcopal nominee Dr. Tim McClendon said he is in a time of deep prayer and preparation for General Conference. He and the delegation continue to pray that they will be able to accomplish all they need to do at General Conference to ensure the UMC continues making disciples for Jesus.
“A lot of my concern is how we will operate as a delegation, particularly first-timers but all of us, in navigating the process, rules and procedures so everything and everyone is taken care of,” McClendon said, noting he is focused on helping the other South Carolina delegates fulfill their functions so General Conference is a collegial and collaborative gathering reflecting the will of God.
“I hope we come out of it as a more unified church, hope we can come to a place where we are less focused on winners and losers, but a place where we can hold together,” McClendon said. “I invite everybody in South Carolina to be in prayer not just for the South Carolina delegation but for the spirit of General Conference. I’ve seen a lot of posturing out there in social media of folks who would like to co-opt the General Conference to press agendas that will be more divisive.
“I hope we can navigate the usual contentiousness and still come out on the side where we’re unified in what we believe: one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”
Lay Leader Barbara Ware, first elected lay delegate for GC2016, said she is honored to have the opportunity to serve the UMC in this capacity.
“The UMC shaped my life in so many ways, and I am grateful to those who went before me to help make that a reality,” Ware said. “I take my responsibility as a delegate seriously and humbly for those in the future who will call themselves United Methodist. I covet the prayers of the people that all we do at General Conference will glorify Jesus Christ.”
Lay delegate Martha Thompson also asked for prayer and said she believes General Conference will be an awesome experience. Even though this is her first time serving as a delegate to General Conference, she has been a lay delegate since 1988 to the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference (slated for July) and has some idea of what to expect at General Conference.
“I grew up hearing about General Conference from a very young age, since my father had been elected as a clergy delegate from South Carolina four times in the 50s, 60s and early 70s,” Thompson said. “The climate of the church has changed since those days! This General Conference will be pivotal as we set the course for the future of our church.”
Thompson hopes South Carolina United Methodists will pray for every delegate each day of General Conference.
Dave Braddon also hopes people will pray for all delegates.
“We need to remember that in the midst of the kinetic pace and sometimes emotional proceedings, our goal is to hear God’s will and be as proficient as we can in knowing, loving and serving Christ and leading others to do likewise,” Braddon said. “Pray that the Holy Spirit will be with us in powerful ways and that, through God’s grace, we will collectively discern the will of God for the branch of the body of Christ that we call United Methodists.”
Braddon said that while human sexuality questions are important and will likely dominate the public reporting on General Conference, there are many other topics that will be discussed at the gathering, such as how to improve the process leading to ordination of clergy, how do we best function as a global church and how many board members should some of our agencies have. He hopes people will remember that.
The Rev. Narcie Jeter said she wants to be intentional about claiming that sense of hope and wonder that a people who can be so very different are rooted in that ultimate tie that binds: Jesus Christ. While a first-time clergy delegate this year, she took a class at Candler at the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburg and advocated for collegiate ministry at the 2008 and 2012 General Conferences, and she was able to listen to the passionate pleas there and watch political maneuvering.
“I remember standing in the bleachers as the entire body sang ‘Blessed Be the Tie that Binds’ after the communion chalice was broken, clinging to the words and moved by the Spirit,” Jeter said. “Some might call me optimistic, others naive, but I believe God can bring new and abundant life to our world. God can do a new thing that will shock our socks off if we dare to revive our God-inspired dreams. I’m praying for a revival, a Great Awakening, that starts in our hearts, our families, our communities, our churches, our world and our structures, our bureaucracy, our systems, our death tsunamis, our self interest, our pride.
“If we dare to imagine the possibilities, fervently praying all along the way, who knows what God will stir up in these people called United Methodists for the transformation of the world.”
Jenkins said she is eagerly anticipating fruitful Christian conferencing.
“My heart swells with joy just imagining the global magnitude of diversity and manifestation of the power of God through our worship, prayer and fellowship as we gather to do His work,” Jenkins said. “As we discern all of the decisions we have to make, I will keep God’s works and words with me and in me. My prayer is to remain spirit-guided and to make Godly decisions on the crucial legislation before us, understanding that all matters must have the focus of Kingdom-building.”
The full list of General Conference legislation is available at gc2016.umc.org. The South Carolina delegation’s final meeting before General Conference will be May 1 at 3 p.m. at the conference center; all are welcome to attend. Bishop Jonathan Holston will be at the meeting, where they will also make nominations for a jurisdictional pool of nominees for a variety of general boards and agencies. The final meeting, just prior to Jurisdictional Conference, is June 18.
Advocate Editor Jessica Brodie will cover General Conference in Portland. In-depth coverage of the full event will appear in the next edition. Also visit www.advocatesc.org for updates.
South Carolina members of General Conference 2016 Legislative Committees
- Church and Society 1: The Rev. Narcie Jeter
- Church and Society 2: Michael Cheatham, the Rev. Susan Leonard-Ray
- Conferences: Herman Lightsey
- Discipleship: The Rev. Mel Arant Jr., Dr. Joseph Heyward
- Faith and Order: Dr. David Braddon, the Rev. Tiffany Knowlin
- Financial Administration: James Salley
- General Administration: Barbara Ware
- Global Ministries: Martha Thompson
- Independent Commissions: Dr. Tim McClendon
- Judicial Administration: The Rev. Tim Rogers
- Local Church: Dr. Robin Dease, The Hon. Jackie Jenkins
- Ministry and Higher Education/Superintendency: The Rev. Ken Nelson