I serve on the Rules of Order Committee for our Iowa Annual Conference. These rules are basically the organizing and structural principles that guide our shared work and life together – both within our 3-4 day conference sessions and for the rest of the year.
We’ve been working hard to clarify and “clean up” the rules. We had stuck a number of standing reports within our Rules of Order at one point that really didn’t belong. And now, we are working to examine which of the rules help us to live effectively into shared ministry together, and which are hindering us from the work before us. A colleague on the committee shared with lament: “it’s like we didn’t know how to trust each other, so we just wrote all of these rules instead.”
Maybe you are familiar with the feeling. An employee leaves under bad circumstances, so you change the job description before hiring someone new… so that all of the previous person’s faults can be avoided. Or one person oversteps an unwritten boundary and the entire system reacts by making a complex set of rules.
Rules are good. They guide and shape our life together. They provide the foundation or the framework upon which our homes and churches grow and flourish. Done well, they provide just enough support and instruction to enable us to be creative and joyfully share in our work together and then they get out of the way.
And I’m also acutely aware of the ability of rules to protect and defend the innocent, the marginalized, and the powerless. Rules can keep us from running amok and forgetting to look around and see who we have neglected to create space for at the table.
But that comment from my colleague keeps sticking with me. Too often, because of distrust, or instead of doing the hard work of learning how to trust or trying to build trust, we just create new rules. We fill our churches, our institutions, our Discipline, with do’s and don’ts.
As I pour over the nearly 1500 pages of legislation brought to the General Conference, that comment keeps ringing out in the back of my mind.
Is this piece of legislation a symptom of our distrust of one another? Or is it a tool that will help us work together towards God’s future?
Over and over, I ask these questions.
Will this addition or deletion help us be more faithful to the witness of God in our world today as the people called United Methodist? Or are we simply adding or deleting a rule because we aren’t happy with what Mr. Smith said at the last Ad Council meeting?
Does this legislation lift up possibility of God calling us in a new way? Or is it filled with fear that holds us back from living out God’s dream?
I don’t believe our work at General Conference 2016 is to legislate trust. We can’t “whereas” and “therefore” our way out of our disagreements. So I pray for the God of hope to fill our proceedings. I pray for a Spirit of direction that will help us to create a framework for ministry that can reach every corner of this globe. I pray that the Living Word would be heard afresh so that God’s vision for today might be heard a new.