Divining expectations and discerning priorities for General Conference 2019


By Marie Kuch-Stanovsky

As head of our Pacific Northwest Conference delegation, I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer and study to prepare for the special session of General Conference, now just a few short days away. I’d like to share some insights and opinions gleaned from that work, and from serving on the Rules Committee of the Commission on General Conference. For those of you prayerfully following the progress of the Special Session, I hope this will help you understand not only the mechanics as the conference progresses, but also what it might mean for the future of our denomination.

A conference like no other

This General Conference will be different. We will need to form a new way of being and working together. Groups across our connection are calling for deeper cooperation and a higher spiritual maturity. The Council of Bishops is approaching its work in new ways as well. The Council recently shared a new covenant for presiding bishops that includes rigorous training and the setting aside of any personal agenda. Technology has started to simplify the complicated work of the General Conference, but our rules and traditions struggle to keep up and some have co-opted the disconnect to bog down the process. This covenant shows a sharp focus on the impact of the presiding bishop, a role that is necessary to invoke grace and calm anxieties, while also facilitating the work of the body. I hope this intentional work by our bishops sets the tone for holy conferencing in St. Louis.

The petitions before us

In a meeting last month, the Committee on Reference deemed 78 petitions in harmony with the call of the Special Session. On the first day of the Special Session, General Conference will receive these petitions and any additional legislation deemed in harmony. The Book of Discipline mandates that all petitions receive a vote of a legislative committee and that all of the petitions supported by a legislative committee receive a vote of the General Conference (2016 BOD ¶ 507.10-11). The Commission on General Conference decided to fulfill this requirement with a single legislative committee on the second day, followed by a plenary session on the third day. I hope the Holy Spirit moves through the legislative committee and again through the General Conference plenary.

The order of the work

The time constraints of three working days and the required votes on each petition will compound an already difficult path for the Special Session. The first plans and petitions to come to the floor of the legislative committee will have the best opportunity for prayerful perfection and adoption. This year, for the first time, delegates will determine the order of business on their first legislative day by engaging in a new process: a “prioritization vote” for ordering our work together. The legislative committee—again, consisting of all voting delegates—will first consider plans (integrated groups of petitions) and petitions with the highest percentage of High Priority votes from the first day. I hope this process will allow the body of delegates to work carefully and efficiently.

High priority

All of the Western Jurisdiction delegates have committed to support the One Church Plan. Many of us also support the Simple Plan. The prioritization vote will take place for each plan or single petition in turn, allowing for continued support of both plans. I will give high priority votes to both the Simple Plan and the One Church Plan.

I think the Simple Plan is the best plan. It removes passages in The Book of Discipline that restrict ministry with queer children of God. It is a compromise—the Simple Plan does not require clergy or churches to be fully inclusive. A truly diverse group of prophetic clergy and laity from across the United Methodist connection wrote this legislation. This diversity was starkly clear in the UM News panel featuring a proponent of each plan, where all other plans were represented by straight white men, Rev. Althea Spencer-Miller spoke to the Simple Plan as a powerful “immigrant, black, female.” Her witness and the work of the Simple Plan leadership team inspire me to deepen my faith and commitment to Christ. Some of their perspectives can be found at this blogroll. These are leaders I want to be church with, and I am thankful for the clear, simple legislation they offer to the General Conference. I hope that all delegates see the Simple Plan for what it is: a strong step towards God’s promise for our church and our world.

The One Church Plan is also one of compromise. It is an imperfect plan the Judicial Council has ruled needs amendments to be constitutional. This plan creates the freedom for United Methodists in different contexts to choose to ban gay weddings in their churches and to deny God’s call to ordained ministry for queer people. I believe that denial is in contradiction to God’s promise for our world, and I’m not sure how positive a step it is on the journey towards justice. That said, a General Conference that enacts the One Church Plan will signify meaningful progress toward Christ-like inclusion. A majority vote for this legislation will show a softening of hearts and a willingness of our conservative siblings to compromise that I have not seen in my work at General Conference in 2008, 2012, or 2016. I think the One Church Plan is inadequate, but by supporting it, I am reaching my hand toward those who are unsure about queer sexuality and Christian tradition—and even those who are quite certain I am wrong—asking us all to be church together. I hope that the One Church Plan will create new spaces for deep conversation about sexual and gender identity and ministry in our modern world.

On the journey together

I journey toward this special session of General Conference with a hopeful heart. I endeavor to keep my spirit open to the process. I invite you to share your hopes as well, if you’d like. Please text them to me at 425-390-4309.

I appreciate your prayers for our delegation and for all who are invested in this pivotal moment in the life of our Church. I was reminded last week by Amory Peck (former PNW Conference Lay Leader) and Rev. Elizabeth Schindler (fellow PNW GC2019 delegation member) how important it remains to hold in prayer those who are feeling hurt or abandoned by the church. We also pray for God’s promise to be revealed in your life, in our church, and in our world.

Marie Kuch-Stanovsky is the head of the PNW delegation and serves on the Rules Committee of the Commission on General Conference. She is the interim Campus Minister at the Wesley Club in Bellingham and the coordinator of Fossil Free UMC, as well as a designer and letterpress printer.

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