Monday, November 19, 2007

General Conference: Delegation Meeting Reflections

Last weekend I headed up to NCNY for a General Conference Delegation meeting. We had the pleasure of having a conference call with retired Bishop Joseph Yeakel, who served as bishop of the New York West Area before I knew what a bishop was. Bishop Yeakel is known around the connection for his exceptional knowledge of UMC polity and order. If you've been to General Conference, you've likely seen him sitting behind the presiding bishop, acting as the fount of knowledge he is when it comes to questions of decoding the Robert's Rules, etc. Bishop Yeakel spoke to us, and especially to first time delegates, about what to expect and how to prepare for General Conference. He also answered our questions about what big issues to expect (besides the usual suspects), etc. I really enjoyed his conversation and insight.

Some notes I made on the conversation:

Bishop Yeakel reminded us that there's a difference between being a member and a delegate. We are members of Annual Conference, but delegates to General Conference. Being a delegate means that our responsibility is limited to the event, the time of GC itself. We go as individual delegates. I know this is not always the view held in other delegations, but in NCNY we have always emphasized that we vote as individuals, not as a block.

The bishop said, "We’re not the church John Wesley thought he was starting." He talked about Francis Asbury, how Wesley would have appointed Asbury to the role of the first bishop in the American Methodist movement, but that Asbury instead (or in addition, I guess) wanted to be elected by his colleagues. So, Bishop Yeakel talked about us having a "polity quadrilateral." We are:
1) Conciliatory. Conciliar. We meet in council.
2) Connectional, legally and by covenant.
3) Itinerant church. "We're not called to be called. We're called to be sent." That's a powerful statement.
4) Episcopal. Not a hierarchical or separate order. But bishops are chief connectional officers. The only person who can interpret what’s in the ‘Book of Covenant’ (the Bishop's preferred term for the Book of Discipline) is the bishop of the area where topic is in question (and Judicial Council, in review.)

Bishop Yeakel also talked about the types of legislative responsibilities we would have at GC:
1) Constitutional. Only legislation that becomes effective only after referendum to Annual Conferences.
2) Temporal economy/organization and administration: 'immediate' and complete control at over this at General Conference.
3) Normative law, like Social Principles. This is our best understanding of our life together, but not legalism of second category. Includes narrative portions of discipline.

Concluding our time, the Bishop said, “There’s a part of each one of us that is a political animal, and hopefully the grace of God can work through that too.” Hopefully indeed!
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