I started my day at 7am with the Committee on Reference and when everyone else was done for the evening, I joined a group of 50+ folks for a three hour training session for a process we might not even choose to implement.
I’m exhausted. It was a 14 hour day and I’m spent. So I apologize for any typos.
But I have to tell you… if we don’t pass rule 44, we are missing out on an opportunity to listen to one another and to let the Holy Spirit move in our United Methodist General Conference.
I was really challenged by the Episcopal Address this morning… particularly Bishop Palmer’s words that we can get all of the words of a petition right, but if we don’t get the process right, then we have failed in our witness as a church.
And I’m going to be honest. There was not a lot that has been shared before this conference about what the process would actually look for Rule #44 like that was helpful. A lot has been vague. Rule 44 doesn’t actually talk about how the small group process will work OR the facilitation team. It only sets out the foundation for the process. So no wonder there has been speculation and misinformation and fear and trembling.
Because we didn’t know!
I was invited to be a small group leader (they were nominated by heads of delegation/bishops and then chosen by the Commission on General Conference) and I didn’t know what it would look like.
So twitter and facebook and tables conversations are blowing up with #rule 44 (seriously, it has its own twitter account – @RuleFortyFour) commentary that has no basis in reality.
Tonight, I was handed a packet full of the complete process. And I was trained in how to use it. And because it isn’t a secret (and it never has been… it just for some reason was never actually shared) I feel obligated to share. I feel like someone has to put out the information about the process we would actually use if Rule #44 is approved.
- We vote on approving Rule 44 (or not… the body decides)
- We vote on whether or not to use the process this year for any given piece of legislation
- If we choose to use it (no matter the legislation… although the materials are prepared for our conversations around human sexuality and the church) the following process will begin:
- There will be an orientation to the process for all delegates in a plenary session
- We will move into our small groups on Saturday and work the process. And guess what… for many, the small groups are the exact same small groups you were in for the conversation on the worldwide nature of the church (some were better organized than others, utilizing the group assignments, but that is a separate issue), which means that for many there has already been the establishment of a relationship and the beginning of trust.
- Small groups are assigned based on a) legislative committee assignment, b) seeking diversity of cultural , geographic, gender, clergy/lay, etc. experiences, while at the same time c) grouping participants together so that ideally there are no more than two languages in each group (to allow for better use of translation). /ol>
- The small group process (what I’m calling phase 1):
- Centering with 2 questions: 1) As you come into this discussion how are you feeling? 2) What are your hopes for the UMC as it makes decisions about _______ (in this case, LGBT people in the life of the church)?
- Here, we have conversation, but do not record answers. If instead of speaking you want to signal that you agree with what someone else has said, you can indicate that by raising a card.
- The small group process (phase 2):
- We examine a group of petitions about the same subject (or paragraph in the Book of Discipline) by focusing on ONE petition in that grouping that has been chosen as a focus petition. It was selected because it represented the most changes or issues to discuss given the varying petitions. Everyone begins with the same grouping/topic
- Three questions are asked: 1) as you consider this petition, what is important to you and why? 2) Does this petition express what the church needs to say at this time? 3) At this stage, can you see anything that needs changed to make this more helpful for the church? We have conversation, but do not record answers and can again indicate that we feel the same as someone by raising a card.
- The small group process (phase 3):
- For each proposed change in the petition (deletion or addition) we ask the following two questions and answers are recorded: 1) Do you support the change? (no spoken answer, simply raise card to indicate yes,no, or abstain… the results are recorded), 2) Do you have an alternative to what is suggested? (this is where amendments can be made… and each is suggested and then the group records support via: yes, no, abstain).
- This is done for each portion of the petition, then there is a final question: Is there anything that would be helpful for the GC to say to the church on this subject? Suggestions are recorded and we discuss and take votes of support: yes, no, abstain).
- The report contains the record of yes, no, abstensions for every piece of the legislation as well as suggestions and their support. This is what is reviewed and turned in.
- When the first topic/group is complete, the group decides which topic/grouping of petitions to address next and repeats phases 2 and 3.
- Facilitation Process:
- The facilitators are elected by the General Conference from a slate and serve as servants of the delegates. Their role is to compile and to develop the focus petition into a piece of legislation that mirrors the will of the body and will bring forth a report based on what we have recorded on the small group sheets. This report will contain recommendations like: Keep the addition of this word because 68% of small group participants indicated support of the addition. Do not delete this phrase because only 22% of the small group participants favor deletion.
- The facilitation group will also incorporate the suggestions of the small groups that were included on the sheets if there might be some ownership of that idea. One group might support a suggestion with only 30% yes votes, but if it comes up in a few other locations too, the facilitation group might include it. What they are doing is giving us the opportunity to test if that is the moving of the Holy Spirit by allowing the whole body to discuss the suggestion.
- The goal is to help the whole body see the voice of the whole body. The focus petition might look different when it comes before the plenary because a) the pieces were not supported by the small group votes, b) suggestions were made and had some support (even like 15%, are incorporated, c) division in support in various parts of the pettion might cause the facilitation group to divde the petition into separate sections.
- The Facilitation Group will present the compiled petition to the body and it will come before us like ANY OTHER PIECE OF LEGISLATION, with the addition of the report including our % votes and rationale behind the inclusions or exclusions.
- Like ANY OTHER PIECE OF LEGISLATION, we can vote to amend, discuss, table, divide, etc.
The four groups/topics if we vote to use this process on the topic of human sexuality are (based on a sorting of roughly 60+ petitions) :
1) Human Sexuality (paragraph 161.F ) – All groups will do this one to start.
2) Marriage – divided into three subgroups: Definition of Marriage ( paragraph 161.B), Unauthorized Conduct (paragraph 341.6), and Chargeable Offenses (paragraph 2702.1)
3) Ordination (paragraph 304.3)
4) Inclusion in the Church (paragraph 4)
The rationale behind allowing the small groups to choose which topic they want to discuss second is that it allows for them to determine focus. If no small group chooses to complete one of the topics, that says something about our willingness to engage in those petitions. The various small groups will choose the ones that are important to them.
As small group leaders, we also had a lot of discussion about how we help these conversations to be a place for open, honest, safe dialogue.
Again, I was really challenged by a line of Bishop Palmer’s this morning that went something to the effect of:
“Our relationships are so superficial that we will not risk saying something that we might have to apologize for later.”
I have really wrestled with the monitoring role of our conversations because the conversation I see on social media goes in two very different directions:
1) LGBTQI folks are not an issue. They are human beings. And some the language and terms we use to discuss their lives are hurtful.
2) If people are not allowed to speak the truth of where we really are because they are silenced by those who disagree with them, or out of fear of offending, or even because they have offended through their words, then we have not really had a conversation.
I brought this up tonight at the training and we had some good brainstorming around strategy. And I articulated this so much better four hours ago, but I think tonight I came to the conclusion that we can only have this kind of trust and openness this conversation requires if we are willing to be hurt by what someone else says. If we are willing to be vulnerable enough to be honest and speak our truth as it is in this moment. And the way to resolve that tension and spiral of the speech/harm/silence/harm cycle is that we have to first use “I” statements. We have to avoid talking about “those people” or “you” or “whatever labels.” Second, we need to pay attention to how others experience what we have said and invite one another to hear the impact of the words we use. Third, as a leader, I can reframe language that is unhelpful by trying to get at the core of what they are trying to say. Lastly, we have to be willing to apologize, to humble ourselves, to learn and to grow, if in the process of doing one, two, and three, we recognize that what we said was not okay. These conversations represent a snapshot in time of a journey of understanding and “because people are searching together for God’s leading… where [an individual] end[s] up may not be where they make a comment in the discussion”
The above, we should do always and everywhere. And for that reason, tonight’s training and the hours of time were not a waste. if Rule 44 doesn’t pass. In fact, I think that because there are individuals in every single legislative committee now who have been through this training, our conversations there will be richer as a result.
There are some logistical concerns, but I hope that the feedback and learning from the worldwide nature of the church conversation will be implemented by Saturday. There are some intercultural competency concerns, but I am aware that we have those same concerns whether we are using Rule #44 or not… they are present in every plenary session and every legislative committee.
What I hope that this post does is alleviate some of the concerns that are based in speculation and fear about this mysterious, weird process that we’ve never done before. But we are meeting in a city whose slogan is “Keep Portland Weird.”
It is a risk to use it.
If we don’t do it right, there is a chance that we will never attempt something like this again.
But we know that what we are doing doesn’t always work. We know Robert’s Rules are not the most Spirit-filled tool and comes with its own set of cultural baggage. Four years ago, we decided we needed a different process and here it is.
I’m voting tomorrow that we support Rule 44. And I’m praying my heart out that if it passes, the delegates, the monitors, the small group leaders, the facilitation team, the interpreters, the folks who set up our meeting space, the volunteer students who type up the responses, the volunteers who give directions in the hallways will enable the Holy Spirit to move in ways that surprise and delight us. I’m praying for every person and every square inch of our space so that the process we use might truly enable us to give God the glory.
Maybe I’m naive… or maybe I’m just a prisoner of hope who refuses to let doubt and fear keep me from seeing where the Spirit blows.