Saturday, October 14, 2006

Reflections: General Board of Church and Society Fall Meeting

I’ve been away from blogging this week, spending time in Washington, DC at my biannual meeting of the General Board of Church and Society.

This gathering also marked the first meeting of the Task Force on the Book of Resolutions, which I chair, and which I asked for your input on last spring. I was pretty anxious going into the meeting. I’ve ‘run’ many meetings now, since becoming a pastor, and these usually don’t worry me. And I also chair the Communications Committee here at GBCS. But I’ve never had to set the entire agenda, collect all the advance content-information, and generally set the course for the work of the committee. On Communications, for instance, the agenda is pretty ‘regular’ and typical. We have a clear task. But with this Task Force, we’re addressing a pretty open-ended question:

Establish an interagency task force convened by the General Board of Church and Society to examine The Book of Resolutions with specific reference to its content, including but not limited to questions of form and length in order to provide a more creative and useful resource for the Church. The task force will report its recommendations to the next General Conference in 2008. Costs will be included in budgets of the participating agencies.

So, I was nervous. I was worried that my agenda, vague and non-specific, would only give us two hours worth of things to do instead of the schedule eight, or that my task force members would rebel against my proposed plans, or that they would brainstorm too fast or run out of ideas too quickly. Of course, being a gathering of good United Methodists, there was no such shortage of ideas or conversation. I felt a great sense of relief when the day was done.

We generated some good ideas about the Book of Resolutions. We moved our conversation to focus in on four areas: The Submission Process, Content, Publishing/Marketing/Education, and Versions/Format.

Some sub topics:
Submission Process – Who can submit resolutions? Should there be a length limit? Can agencies submitting resolutions collaborate together on proposals before submission? Is the submission deadline fair and workable?
Content – Are resolutions too US-centric? Are all resolutions the same? Can we develop resolutions that are “policies” and resolutions that support “policies”? Is there a third category of petitions – items for General Conference action that do not need to be published resolutions?
Publishing/Marketing/Education – What are copyright issues and concerns? How do seminaries teach the Book of Resolutions (do they teach it)? Should the Book be free in some formats? What is the current distribution of the BoR? (Answer: around 20,000 copies. Perspective: There are almost 40,000 clergy persons in the UMC. Hmmm.)
Versions/Format – How is the BoR currently available? How do we make it more available? What is online access like? How can the print version be made friendlier?
Just a start, and we worked on generating possible answers to these questions, but I’m glad to be started on this project and moving ahead. Still, your thoughts and input are welcome.

I’ll be writing more about the meeting in the next few days, but I also wanted to make note that we welcomed several new board members at this meeting, replacing members who had to resign for a variety of reasons – school commitments, moving out of conference boundaries, etc. The new members seemed to jump right into the thick of things and add to our group. I was particularly delighted to meet Rev. Tracy Smith Malone, who I roomed with this time. She’s an elder from Northern Illinois AC, an African-American woman, a young clergywoman serving as a senior pastor in a fairly large mostly white congregation. Dynamic preacher, but I’ll say more about that next post.
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