Monday, May 28, 2007

Annual Conference Thoughts: The Conversation Matters!

I changed my blog description up there, did you notice? It now says, "I believe that the conversation matters. If in the attempt to realize the reign of God on earth, we cannot engage one another in respectful and grace-filled dialogue, we might as well not even try."

(Yes, I stole the phrase "The Conversation Matters" from the title of the Hal Knight and Don Saliers book, which we read in seminary. Reading this book was the first opportunity I had to think about the idea that it is indeed possible to enter into Christian conversation without needing to agree necessarily with everyone around the table. And you know what? - the sky will not fall.)

I believe that the conversation matters because living a Christlike life is more about the journey than the arrival. A.J. Muste said, "There is no way to peace; peace is the way." Similarly, Jesus called himself "the Way," and early Christians were followers of the way. It's not that we have attained the prize, but we press on to make it our own, as Christ made us his own.

Which brings me to ...

This week is the meeting of Annual Conference here in Missouri, and there are a lot of things going on that I have serious questions about. Here they are, in no particular order:
1) The inordinate power given to an ad hoc task force appointed by the Bishop known as "Pathways" that was supposed to be temporary but shows no signs of stopping soon,
2) the use of numbers alone to define "fruitfulness" in ministry,
3) the elimination of conference support of many community service agencies known as "vital ministries,"
4) the move to close Wesley Foundations on college campuses across the state,
5) the new apportionment formula by which 51% of the congregations in my urban district (including NKC) will see an increase next year whereas in some rural districts that figure is a single digit.

And now...

I wonder how much to push these issues. I wonder how many questions to ask before I get the label of troublemaker. I wonder who the best conversation partners might be. I wonder if every voice on these conversations will be heard. I wonder if I ought to wait until after I am ordained to raise my concerns. I wonder how much good it does to raise the issues on the floor of Conference by which time everything seems pretty much decided already. I wonder if not on the floor of conference, then where and with whom.

I believe the conversation matters. But I've never had so many things I've wanted to talk about at once, so I'm not sure where to start!


John Meunier said...

It sounds like some of the same issues are at play in Indiana and Missouri.

We will hear a plan on merging our two conferences in Indiana into one. The recommendation, oddly, includes lots of other things about ministerial accountability and other issues that don't seem directly on the point of the question of merger.

But the super-committee that the Bishop appointed to do this has been getting its ducks in a row for more than year now. I suspect it will pass.

And, heck, I can't say that it shouldn't. But, I'll have my couple of minutes to hear debate before being asked to vote.

Kansas Bob said...

"I wonder if I ought to wait until after I am ordained to raise my concerns."

Timing is everything and patience is a virtue.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that by the time you are officially ordained on Saturday night, it may be too late to raise the concerns since I see the Task Force report is Saturday morning.

You have gone through everything to be ordained, so do not think you would lose anything and it probably would make you feel better and true to what you think and have to contribute.

You that are in your 30s and the ones that are just coming on in their 20s are the leaders of the church of the future and for many years to come----you have the right to speak up since you will be in this for a long time.

As one minister told me---he only has 4 more years to go---but does know many many others will have to live with all the changes that are coming.

qkneesmith said...

Looks to me, you have already said it. And thank you. I really don't think things from here on out will pass as easy as the special session did. There is much post-special session reflection going on. Thanks

mandyc said...

Amen, Andy. I will also be at conference this year (voting as at-large district rep) and am very excited about getting to see your ordination, but also concerned about the business (or lack thereof) that needs to happen. I've never been to MO AC, but I attended Oklahoma's for several years when I lived there and it appears very different. There are only 3 petitions, and no resolutions that I can see on the docket (is this unusual for MO? especially in a General Conference year?), and the only conversations I've heard going into this are about who will be the delegates to GC - very little other than your blog on all of the other matters.

I'm glad to hear that you have questions you want to raise and encourage you to do so, but only in a way that you are comfortable with. You have to consider strategy - where and when will your message make the most sense, impact and really be heard - and how will it affect you and your ability to do ministry. I don't see them taking away your ordination if you dare to speak on the floor of conference (especially with your dad and grandfather there) but is that strategically the best time? I don't know - it's something to pray about, think about and talk about with others who have been involved longer and are concerned with similar things. I doubt you are the only person who has these concerns - I know you are not - and it should be interesting to see who speaks up, and how.

Anonymous said...

These are tough questions to ask and probably even tougher to answer. I certainly know I have no sage advice for you.

Just know how much I admire you, your passion for people and the church and your dedication to making sure we don't settle for the status quo.

Congratulations on being ordained as an Elder. You're gonna ROCK!

The Thief said...

You have the right to, and absolutely need to speak up.