Joining 48 other states we've had a few snow days here recently. Perhaps you can imagine what a place like Augusta GA does when a little snow and ice hits! That meant Monday off work and then a late start on Tuesday. Today I enjoyed my usual day off, and it primarily involved washing a dozen loads of clothes that my children went through while school was off. That gave me some time to think through some work projects and to contemplate the year ahead.
This is one of those years in United Methodism that each Annual Conference (there can be a double meaning here-- do you know the lingo?) will elect clergy and lay delegates for the 2012 General Conference as well as for the Jurisdictional Conferences. Some annual conferences have laity and clergy declare themselves to be candidates and may nominate themselves for consideration. So, they'll fill out an application, submit some thoughts, and place themselves before the other delegates by seeking election as a 2012 delegate. The South Georgia Conference takes this "formal" approach.
In other annual conferences it's up for grabs for any delegate in attendance and slowly but surely some will get enough of a percentage of the votes to be elected as a delegate for the regional and international conferences. My North Georgia conference uses this second "informal" approach for clergy, though the laity are required to register and makes themselves available in the "formal" election manner. As you can imagine if a group must elect 20 or more people this process can be an extended ordeal. Those who garner large numbers in the early votes tend to eventually win out.
I guess either method is political and that's just the nature of any group from any organization attempting to elect a few delegates among hundreds, or in the case of North GA thousands in attendance. As with anything I suppose there are pros and cons to each approach shared above. Some of the downside I've seen with the "informal" clergy delegate election approach is:
1) those who are high profile or have high name recognition tend to gain enough votes to gain momentum in the early stages of voting. The annual conference delegates have been good at attempting to get a mix of delegates elected that reflect the whole of the annual conference. But, we inevitably miss representation of small or medium membership churches, and ministries in settings outside the local congregation such as campus, chaplaincy, military, etc.
2) this approach has also given rise to both formal and informal caucuses or groups seeking to elect "their" people. This was such an issue after one voting year for delegates (this only happens for us every 4 years) that a task force was developed and their were many meetings to increase trust, talk through the impact of caucuses, and so on. While these groups may not be formal this year conversations about who's "running" or who's got interest are bound to occur.
It's interesting stuff, this thing we would call church polity. No easy answers, likely no one, right way to do it. And all with a strong mix of various views of the church, of the issues of the day, plus all the relational aspects of conference life as ministry colleagues spend many years serving together at different levels of the church.
I'd be curious how United Methodist clergy discern and decide upon their General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference delegates:
Does your conference use one of the methods above, or some different way of running for a position and electing clergy?
Further, what are you looking for in a delegate and in a group of delegates? Do you seek a mix of representation that conveys who your conference is? Are you electing those with the most political savvy and interest? Do the people who get your vote represent the past or the future? What factor does the spiritual dimension play in your vote?
Thanks for any answers you might share as I try to finish up all my dirty laundry, and solidify some ideas in my own mind as I think through and pray through this year in Methodism and my obligation to vote for the best clergy delegates to help shape the work of the United Methodist Church. My sincere prayer is that we are in honest conversation with God and with one another as we seek to be a church eager to follow the Christ and work in exciting ways empowered by the Holy Spirit.