PORTLAND, Ore.—Legislative committees kicked their work into high gear at General Conference May 13, approving, amending, rejecting and merging hundreds of petitions that will go before the full body next week.
With the controversial Rule 44 rejected the day prior, the committees dove into their work the traditional way—and always with God at the fore.
After a morning worship that featured Bishop Sally Dyck of the North Central Jurisdiction’s Chicago Episcopal Area, the body heard the laity address, then spent the rest of the day in their separate committees reviewing their area’s petitions one by one.
Some of the work went smoothly, while other committees were rife with emotional displays and high-stress dialogue about many of the hot topic issues, such as human sexuality. One of the committee chairs, Church and Society 2 Chair the Rev. Morris Matthis, collapsed at the end of the day and had to be taken to the hospital, and as word spread, the other committees halted business to share a time of prayer for their brother in Christ.
South Carolina lay delegate Jim Salley, of the Financial Administration committee, said his committee’s work was extremely efficient and amicable. Salley has served on this committee in the past, and this year, he said, “It was the first time we’ve had a financial committee working very well without any really major tensions or arguments.”
“The hot button issues were there, and yet we’re finished (dealing with the legislation),” Salley said. “We were in a good spirit.”
Clergy delegate the Rev. Ken Nelson said his committee, Higher Education and Superintendency, has had to deal with several petitions dealing with controversial issues. Yet even though he just came off of seven “no” votes all in a row (on “third way” and same-sex marriage), he said the Holy Spirit has been strong throughout his committee’s process.
“Even though we’re differing on things, there is genuine listening,” Nelson said. “People are really trying to understand where’s God in this.”
Dr. Tim McClendon, South Carolina delegation chair, said the Independent Commissions committee has also been working very well. He was pleased that they were able to approve recommendation of legislation protecting the focus ministries of General Conference, such as United Methodist Men, United Methodist Women, Archives and History, etc.
“It’s hard work,” he said, but good work.
Hard work, indeed. Lay delegate Michael Cheatham sits on the Church and Society 2 committee, and he told the Advocate it had been a “long, long day and will be a long tomorrow.” His committee has to deal with a large number of highly contentious issues, most notably human sexuality.
“We are being deliberate and conscientious, but it’s a struggle,” Cheatham said. “Prayer is definitely needed. It’s been getting tense sometimes, and you can sense when the emotions are high.”
Several from South Carolina are also in Portland to help with the quadrennial event, whether as spectators, as pages or in other capacities. The Rev. Josh McClendon said he has been happy to serve as a support for the delegates, being a runner, scouting out restaurants for them and finding them snacks so they can better focus on the legislation at hand. The Rev. Travis Pearson is doing much the same.
“My South Carolina prayer is for stamina,” Pearson told the Advocate, noting that many of the delegates are experiencing sleepless nights and great emotional strain as they do their best to mull the issues and discern God’s will through it all.
Tomorrow, May 14, is the last day of committee work for General Conference. After a Sabbath break May 15, the body will resume May 16 as a full body for conference business.
Check back tomorrow for the next General Conference wrap-up.
Brodie is editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate.