Ah, June- the heat, the humidity, the church elections!
I'm on vacation and have had time to 1) catch up on some home projects, and 2) think about the larger United Methodist Church and our upcoming elections. This really has been a struggle for me as I've tried to approach it prayerfully, spiritually, with a focus on more than merely the relational or political. That's tough though in a very large conference when you don't have much information or know where potential delegates stand.
At this Annual Conference (June 14-17) of North GA UMC we, like all other annual conferences, are preparing for delegate elections for General & Jurisdictional Conferences. The UMC always has a lay & clergy delegates to gather in conference. While laity announce they are interested in being elected in North GA, and then share some basic information with the lay delegates, the clergy are all electable and therefore no one officially "runs." We don't advertise this, we don't fill out a form, but conversations grow over the months as we get closer to these elections held every 4 years. It's easiest to vote for people you know, who have high visibility, or who have the backing of some group of clergy you know.
I'm not running, & while very interested in the near future of the UMC, am neither a potential delegate nor a "king" maker. I'm a deacon mission pastor who loves the UMC and wants to see us do our best work. Serving in Augusta, which is 2 1/2 hours from the conference office in metro Atlanta, I'm barely in the conference! So, the challenge for me is to know who's interested in being a delegate, & that's why I've asked with interest who's on a list (since we don't use a clergy self nominating process which might include a brief bio, their vision, & a photo so you might know the face). In years when I've shown up at Annual Conference not knowing who's "on the list" it would take a couple of ballots to know what was going on & by then a number of the delegates would have the numbers to be elected while it would also become more obvious who might emerge to fill out the rest of the delegation. I vaguely recall around 30 ballots the last time or two we went through this!
Yesterday I received a "combined nomination list." This shared 50 names of clergy vetted by an All Women's Clergy group, the African American women's group, the Deacons, a clergy chaired group, and the Wesley Covenant Renewal Movement. I don't know where this came from, or who compiled it, but they do seem to be well connected. This whole process is an odd tightrope walk for everyone as we desire to stay in covenant with each other, keep the focus on ministry and relationships built on trust, yet elect a representative group of clergy who 1) might have an episcopal nominee who could become bishop in the SEJ, 2) do all this in a way that builds short term and long term ministry focus, and 3) identifies those who will be entrusted as our decision makers who will shape the future of the UMC. I'm sure you see the practical, political, spiritual, and relational challenge in all of this. Of course, each caucus vets delegates who come from their ranks or are well regarded by their group.
There are some things that bug me about some of the lists. I wonder how many clergy didn't cast a prevote. By that, I merely indicate that there are a lot of independent clergy, folk who stay busy in ministry, and folk outside of metro ATL who are outside of the current system of conversations leading up to the election. Still, there are some very strong clergy on the list that I'll vote for, though it is noteworthy there are many other strong clergy in North GA UMC that I don't see listed. Too bad there isn't an Indy Clergy List!
Another issue would be if the group is working in ways that create unity or division. Maybe I'm naive, but I don't see North GA as a divided or divisive group during normal seasons. If a group seems to be creating an "order" within the clergy order, or within the conference, I'm not voting for any of their vetted delegates. While I might be sympathetic toward some of their objectives their process and exclusion ultimately say more about them than their list.
On the plus side I do like the variety of clergy who might represent us when I look over these names-- with the addition of my Indy List. I'm much more comfortable with a diverse group that reflects the variety of North GA than some bland, lock step sort of group that has a narrow agenda. We do best as Methodists in conference when our voices are all heard and when we listen for the voice of God.
Here's the list of lists that was originally in an Excel format. You'll notice some clergy show up in multiple lists (the original was alphabetized and color coded!).
Dave Allen Grady
Susan Allen Grady
Mary Gene Lee
Jacqui Rose Tucker
African American Women (16)
[Note: my clergy order is smaller, therefore, we typically offer a few of our group for consideration by the annual conference]
Dave Allen Grady
Susan Allen Grady
Wesleyan Renewal (8)
[Note: this is a partial list as members will be sent a text update
as balloting proceeds.]
Some Clergy on my Indy list worth consideration:
How do you find 31 clergy delegates -13 for General Conference, 13 for Jurisdictional Conference, and 5 Alternates- out of 1000 clergy? Who is missing from the list? Are there any Independents out there we've overlooked? What might God be doing that is going to surprise all of us? And who will the episcopal nominee be?
I'm looking for people with proven leadership in the conference, with a strong Wesleyan Christian approach, with a great sense of teamwork and unity, and with roots in the best of our tradition yet ready to embrace our future with enthusiasm and Methodist zeal as we make some necessary institutional changes. I hope we have a delegation that reflects the best of our North GA Annual Conference, and has a range of clergy & laity who are excited to be part of the larger work of the UMC as we follow the way of Christ today and tomorrow. This 2012 General Conference is going to call for our very best efforts, and some strategic decisions in mission and ministry which will have long term consequences. I'd love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and best choices as we "pre-conference" in hopes that by listening to each other we'll better hear God.