Rankin File

Ruminations, fulminations, and cogitations on the spiritual life

Watching a Church Work

Imagine a large convention center with a huge main room and a slew of smaller rooms (they’re still big, but they can be divided with those big, moveable wall partitions). Imagine seventy or eighty people sitting in one of those rooms, with a few people at a head table and the rest of the people sitting in rows, with microphone stands strategically placed around the room. At the back are booths in which are seated translators for the delegates who do not speak English. If you could walk by those booths you would hear Spanish, French, Portugese, and other languages. Each translator is speaking into a microphone attached by cable to a headset worn by a delegate who is getting an almost simultaneous translation.

Now, imagine this legislative group doing its work according to Roberts Rules of Order: motions, amendments, points of order, speeches for and against, and votes. Everything has to be done in a way that ascertains as best as we can that everyone participates fully in the process. If you can imagine these things, you can get a sense of a General Conference legislative committee at work.

I sat in on the Higher Education and Ministry legislative committee for awhile, watching the proceedings. (In each of the committee rooms, there is a place separated from the main part of the room, for visitors and observers.) The committee was going through a proposed change to the Book of Discipline relative to leaves of absence for various categories of ministers (e.g. licensed local pastor, probationary member, other categories). Each of these pieces of legislation has a number – “Petition #80412” (I made up this number). One petition can be several pages long. The committee (or a sub-committee) has to go through it and decide whether to recommend approval, non-approval or amendment. The work is slow, detailed and extremely tedious. And remember, everything has to be translated, with adequate time for people to ask questions, make amendments, or do something else, in whatever language is theirs.

I confess, this sort of business does not stir my soul, but I deeply appreciate the people who are willing to take the responsibility. Never doubt that they are engaging in a labor of love.

The pressure is starting to mount. The committees have a lot of work to do and tomorrow (Sunday) is the deadline for getting everything ready for the plenary session. Even more, petitions approved by committees that had budget implications (i.e. were they going to cost money to implement), had to be finished and submitted by 5:00 pm today (Saturday). Talk about pressure.

Highlights for today? Our Kansas Area delegations went out to eat together this evening. It’s always a joy to sit down with friends. We had our Bishop Jones and Mary Lou with us as well. And Bishop Hutchinson of Louisiana preached at this morning’s worship and it was outstanding! He preached on the John 3 text, about Nicodemus and being born of the Spirit, born from above. It was really a call to remember the source of our life, individuall and ecclesially – to be filled with the Spirit once again.

So, how does all that legislative minutiae relate to life in the Spirit? I admit, I’m sometimes doubtful. It’s easy to blow off the business side of church life as unspiritual, therefore unimportant. But then I remember other meetings, not at General Conference, like the Board of Ordained Ministry, when one of our struggling colleagues needs some time off and they take “voluntary leave of absence.” And we’re checking the Book of Discipline to make sure we follow procedures. But of course, now it’s not just about meaningless legislation. It’s about someone’s life. And I’m thankful for the people who were paying attention in the legislative committee.

I still wonder how much of what we’re doing truly embodies the life of the Spirit. There is surely more to Christ’s Kingdom…

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April 27, 2008 - Posted by | Religion, United Methodism

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