By Bob Phillips
"Perficitur...It is finished." General Conference 2016 began and ended on time. Many, but not all, petitions submitted made it for consideration. Money to fund theological education for African pastors was increased (by 2020 roughly half of all United Methodists will live outside the US and by 2024 more UMs will live in Africa than in the US). Yet huge slabs of money go, as tradition decrees, to our existing official seminaries. Some are thriving schools educating a healthy number of clergy each year and others send fewer than 20 into the denomination for service as pastors...while receiving several hundreds of thousands of dollars for the effort. The shift to sanity and focus is beginning.
Petitions to denounce Israel (unilateral) or to require the church's pension board to stop investment in fossil fuel companies did not survive, though the realistic and healthy conversation related to positive witness in the Middle East and toward the ecological issues affecting us all were encouraging. The thinking was that divestment means the church walks out of the room and no longer has any access for witness; if we had a few hundred billion dollars invested in a couple of companies, that would get attention, but we are chump change. This means we have an outsized voice to express concerns relative to our finances, since any investor can speak at stockholder gatherings.
I noticed again the same dozen folks who would scurry to the microphone and call a point of order or point of information, which the presiding bishop would be obligated to receive. Sometimes it obviously was an effort to slow or derail a process not heading in their preferred direction. Other times it was the proverbial 5 minutes of fame, only it costs the church nearly $2,000 per minute. I suggest that after one daily comment that these character be charged the two grand for each subsequent show-stopping case of jabber-yabber that holds 849 other human beings hostage. In my dreams, and no, I never rose to speak, which must astound some of you!
I will offer a more complete assessment of GC after a few days of digesting all that was involved. On the last Sunday in May and on the first Wednesday evening in June I will offer information and talk-back sessions at the church (Peoria First UMC) on what happened, from my person non-infallible chair. And thank you for the prayers I sensed surrounding the proceedings, the planning, and all that was part of this raucous, blessed, contradictory, rip-shorting (and occasionally rip-snoring) event. Jesus is Lord and while an individual church or collection of churches occasionally may not be in good hands, underneath always are the Everlasting Arms...