Discernment

I was at a meeting yesterday of our conference’s latest attempt to address the need for a governing body to meet in between annual conference sessions to oversee the ongoing ministries and carry out the wishes of the annual conference. We’re calling it the Conference Connectional Network.

It was sort of a meeting… It was billed as a retreat… but Larry Homitsky, Frank Sherman, and I were the only guys NOT in a dress shirt. In fact, several guys were actually wearing ties (and one nut was wearing a collar!!!! But in fairness, Keith claimed it was because he had been at a funeral beforehand… OK, whatever!)

In any case, it was a good meeting/retreat where we were able to establish some common understandings and goals.

What has stuck with me the most, however, was towards the end when Bishop Tom Bickerton led us in the selection of officers for the new group. He set the ground rules as being a process of discernment, not nominations and elections.

We passed around the Post It notes and we each prayed and wrote down a name of one of the members of the group that we thought might be the one God Himself wanted for whatever position. No nominations were allowed. No speeches. No reminders.

And through that process, there were just a few that really seemed to “come to the top” in each category. The bishop then asked us to take another Post It note and we prayed again and wrote down the name that came to mind from that group. In that way, eventually, we were able to discern the Rev. Greg Cox as our chair, The Rev. Gary Grau as our vice-chair, and The Rev. Keith McIlwain as our secretary.

COOL PROCESS!!!

But then I remembered back to annual conference when we all claimed we wanted to use discernment as the way we were going to select our delegates to General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference. I don’t think it worked as well as it was meant to… and definately not as well as last night’s process.

Part of the problem lies in our conference rules that sets up a pre-nomination kind of requirement where people can “put their names in the hat” on their own by writing a summary of why they would be a good delegate. Then the different districts can nominate them or, if they don’t secure that nomination, they can simply find 25 others to agree (by signing a petition to nominate them) and they still appear at the front of the list when we go to vote at the annual conference session.

Part of the problem this past year was that there were some unscrupulous folks that sent out anonymous letters campaigning for their own favorites for laity delegates. As I’ve said before, anonymity has no place among Christians who claim they are taking a stand for righteousness and justice. Jesus, Paul, Justin, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and scores of others took stands for righteousness and justice and did it bold-faced and stood up to be counted… and IDENTIFIED. The only ones I find that took stands anonymously were folks who were on shaky ground like the folks who wore masks, hoods, and robes to cover their intimidation tactics in the middle of the night as they burned crosses. That kind of ‘stand’ has no place amongst those who stand up to be counted for Christ.

But I believe there was another problem this past June when we were trying to discern God’s choices for delegates. When the process wasn’t producing what was considered to be the right results, people were allowed to make speeches to suggest candidates… in the spirit of inclusiveness.

Now I believe in inclusiveness… to a point. We should NOT be deliberately excluding people and need to constantly be on guard to make sure that the systems and organizations we are in are accessible to all. But to claim you’re seeking God’s will and using a process of discernment ought to preclude all of those suggestive reminders. After all, if you’re listening to GOD, then can’t GOD simply tell you who is GOD’s choice???

Does that mean that we were saying that God might not select the right delegates? Or are we saying that inclusiveness is more important than discernment?

And on that note… if we’re really going to be inclusive, then why were we reminded to be inclusive based on skin colors? I thought United Methodists were against such labelling. Don’t we say that we DON’T make decisions based on skin color? And while there were reminders of several African-American candidates, how come nobody suggested a Korean or Native-American? We have people of both of those backgrounds as well in our conference.

And come to think of it, why were we being reminded that we needed to be inclusive based on gender? I thought United Methodists were against making decisions based on gender.

And if we are really going to make inclusiveness the god that we get our discernment from, then what about the geographical representation? Did anyone check to see if the 10 clergy delegates and 10 laity delegates were truly representative of the 10 different geographic districts in our conference?

How about income? Or politics? Or age? How about the small membership churches and the big membership churches? How about those like my congregation where we’re not big but definately not small? Were we represented?

How about the skinny and larger members? Was there a representative inclusiveness? How about those with green eyes and those with brown or blue eyes? Was there a representative inclusiveness?

Maybe we could really be inclusive if the clergy divided equally between those who wear collars and those who don’t.

NOW… let me be clear and say that I think the whole attempt to make inclusivity the MAIN decision making factor is ridiculous. No matter how inclusive you try to be, someone is going to feel left out. Because in struggling for inclusiveness we are actually focusing on our differences and we are, in effect, making bigger divisions.

I think we, in the church, ought to be about discerning God’s will… not just trying to be inclusive. If we are discerning God’s will and hearing God’s leading, then we can trust the process of discernment… without speeches or reminders… just like our Bishop led us in our group last night.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Discernment

  1. I’m with you…I think. My feeling is that the discernment process in Grove City, as politically charged as it was (from our leadership AND the anonymous stuff), did in fact produce the results God intended. We prayed for God’s will; it would be wrong of us to condemn the results just because we don’t LIKE God’s will.But we also need to be more proactive in trying to reach out to minority communities, which we have largely neglected as a Conference. We should do this NOT to simply raise up minority leaders and delegates to Conferences (though that may happen), but because we care about those precious souls and their wonderful communities.Our very white “Connectional Network” is indicative of our sin as a Conference in lacking the passion to reach out to our African-American and Hispanic-American brethren, who comprise a quarter of our population.

  2. Definitely a system that is crying out for correction. Guess we’re going to have to think about that one. And you make excellent points about inclusivity surrounding size (not weight) of churches, and geographical concerns.

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