Sunday, July 20, 2008

Reflections: Jurisdictional Conference

Friday I returned home from a week at Jurisdictional Conference and the preceding NEJCYM (jurisdictional youth) event, the Nor'Easter. I've been seriously bad at blogging - seem to have lost my rhythm! But I'm hoping to be more consistent for the rest of the summer. Some highlights:

Nominations - Nominations to General Boards and Agencies and to Jurisdictional teams (Tables in the NEJ) happen at Jurisdictional Conference. I had the honor of being one of four nominating committee members from my episcopal area, a task I had also done as a lay delegate in 2000. The process can be extremely confusing, sometimes very fast, sometimes very slow. It operates almost like a sports draft. We draw numbers to determine picking order, and then take turns assigning people to agencies with available slots. Some agencies have bigger boards than others, and some spots (like Connectional Table) are highly coveted. When we get through everything, we have to look at our work and see if we were inclusive - is there a balance of men and women? Clergy and lay? Are all the nominees white, or are we racially diverse? Are their young people on the boards? Then some 'trades' happen to balance things more carefully. Areas make changes and compromises. I think we did a decent, though not perfect job. My real area of disappointment is that not a singe youth (age 12-17) was placed on a board from the whole jurisdiction! I raised this concern twice, but no one was willing to give up a spot an adult was nominated to to give youth a voice. We did have eight young adults (including two stellar young adults, Kurt Karandy and Stephanie Deckard, from my Annual Conference) nominated, out of 100+ available spots.

Worship - I enjoyed worship. Mark Miller and his crew, who led worship at General Conference, provided music for us. Fabulous as always. What I love about Mark's music is his ability to go from an upbeat contemporary, gospel, or global praise tune that he's half making up on the spot, to a pulling-out-all-the-stops organ prelude and fugue, which he has memorized of course, without even seeming remotely fazed. Safiyah Fosua was the primary preacher, and she was also excellent. A real highlight was a sermon by retired Bishop Roy Sano. You can read the text here, if you scroll down to page six. The theme, Extreme Church, Extreme Expectations, was not a theme that really resonated with me, but we made do ;)

Elections/Interviews with Episcopal Candidates - We had a full day of interviews with our candidates - 13 of them in all. It made for a very long day. I wonder how much the time of day affected how I felt about a candidate. The afternoon candidates were the hardest. Post-lunch is just such a hard time to pay attention! Every small group asked every bishop two questions: "When you retire as bishop, for what do you want to be remembered?" and "What moves you to tears? Laughter?" By the end of the day, the candidates were clearly tired of these questions! We also asked many others - about making disciples, connecting with young people, leadership in merging conferences, favorite bible characters and verses, a really full candidate. The difficulty was in electing only one new bishop - several candidates seemed equally strong to me, and I had a hard time really 'ranking' my preferences. Ultimately, though, Bishop Peggy Johnson was elected relatively quickly. In Greater New Jersey, Bishop Devadhar remains for another quadrennium. In my conference of membership, NCNY, Bishop Marcus Matthews, now in the Philadelphia area, will come to replace retiring Bishop Violet Fisher.

Boundaries - Significantly, we voted at NEJ to approve the 2010 merger of Troy, Wyoming, Western New York, and North Central New York annual conferences. Our four conferences have been working hard to prepare for this vote to come to the NEJ for many years now, and it was gratifying to finally have this decision made official. What was even more exciting is that we spent virtually no time debating the proposition. It wasn't that people were avoiding the discussion, at least to my perception, but that there was a sense of trust in the process we'd worked with, a sense of moving of the Spirit, and, hopefully for many, an excitement about this new venture. We don't know yet how all the details will work out, but we're ready to move to the next step.

Youth Work - Preceding the conference was the Jurisdictional Youth Event, the Nor'Easter. We spent a day at Hershey Park, and three days worshiping, workshopping, and business-meeting. During a discernment process for sending folks to work with the Division on Ministries with Young People, some interesting conversations took place around race, age, and gender, and how these issues should or shouldn't figure into who we send. Do you think sexism is an issue that young people have to worry about/confront/experience less today than in previous generations? The Jurisdictional Youth encompasses a lot of young people with a wide variety of theological perspectives, of course, and it was certainly interesting to watch how different young people express their faith and deal with differences in points of view.

Did any of you attend your jurisdictional conferences? What were highlights for you?
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