2008 General Conference Reflections
I am not sure how many General Conferences I have attended (ten, I think), but this was my fourth as a delegate. Here are my reflections:
- As a child, I stayed in tents at the Fairmount (IN) Camp and Houghton College (NY) general conferences. Shingle Creek Resort was a long way from those tents!
- At those GC’s as a child, my parents drove and took care of me. At this one, Joan and I drove and we took care of my parents. I did not do a very good job because I let my mother trip over a parking block in the Publix parking lot and we spent Saturday afternoon in the emergency room. She had a cut above one eye and some fractures in her cheek. But being the trooper that she is, she attended all the evening events except for Saturday. We are so very thankful that her injuries were not any worse than they were.
- This was the first GC in around 60 years without Dr. Virgil Mitchell as a delegate. I remember four years ago in Grand Rapids how be “bounded up the steps” when called upon to give the opening prayer. He was sorely missed at this one. It was great to have Mary Mitchell and daughters, Marilyn and Martha, present for the conference.
- We were well represented by our delegates that included: Fred Andrews, Joy Bryant, Tony Casey, Jonathan Catron, Orvan Link, Mark Payne, Sue Rickman, Steve Stanley, Charles Tegen, and myself. (Pictured right)We were less than 50 members away from having two additional delegates. We had a total of more than 50 persons from SC who were present for the GC. We enjoyed a wonderful time of fellowship at a local restaurant on Monday evening. (SC attendees pictured at bottom of page)
Election of JoAnn Lyon –
The election of Dr. JoAnn Lyon as our newest General Superintendent stands out in my mind as a highlight of all the General Conferences I have attended, whether as delegate or attendee. This election is historic in that it represents a huge step in our continuing struggle to confirm the call of God to women in ministry. It is significant because of the passion and perspective brings to this office. She has demonstrated tremendous visioning and leadership capabilities in the founding and remarkable success of World Hope. Her passionate acceptance message filled the room with a fresh wind and gives hope for some forward momentum at the highest level of leadership. This election was most remarkable when you consider that the other nominee had previously served five years as a GS and in his 2004 affirmation vote had received the highest percentage of any GS elected that year.
It is my opinion that as a result of this action, we are going to see a spike in women being called to ministry. The challenge has been and continues to be placing these extremely gifted and competent leaders in places of ministry in the local church.
I encourage you to pray and support all of our elected leaders. It is the right thing to do and we prayed especially for them Sunday morning on our way to church. It felt good!
Memorials (The Memorial # is in parentheses)
(#367) Position Statement on Immigration – This was an outstanding document that was produced by a commission chaired by Rev. Phil Stevenson (Director, E & CG). We can be proud of this statement that can be extremely helpful in guiding us through this very current and highly-politicized issue. This passed with a 96% vote. These and the other position statements will be available for distribution.
(#368) Position Statement on Global Poverty
(#368) Position Statement on Global Human Trafficking
#366) Position Statement on Domestic Violence – 100% vote
(#78) Changes and elucidation in Special Directions of The Wesleyan Church
In my opinion, this was another very helpful memorial that originated with the Board of GS’s. Updating of language, better statements including but not limited to: “Care of the Body and Substance Abuse; The Lord’s Day; Public School; and Use of Time and Entertainments.” Removed was the statement related to Social Dancing. This passed with an 85% vote.
(#116) Response to community membership changes –
For those of us who made the decision to be open in our support of this memorial, it was a struggle. Almost none of us relish disappointing people. I am fully aware that my decision and position would disappoint some people whom I love and respect deeply.
This issue has been on the radar for more than 10 years and is not going away. I felt that this proposal (very similar to the one proposed by a Task Force headed by Dr. David Holdren in 2000) was a good compromise position. The GS’s are to be commended for giving us leadership that enabled us to move forward.
As I have reflected, I am especially grateful for the spirit in which this memorial was debated. In the end, that is what matters most. As a holiness denomination, being set apart has been at our core. It should continue to be nothing less. This memorial reflects a continuance of this by keeping our membership commitments as a standard for those who would provide leadership. The intent of this memorial, as I have processed it, is to enlarge the embrace of the church while remaining unchanged at the core. From its inception, the goal of community membership has been to take new and immature believers and help them become fully-devoted followers of Christ. This process has been Christ’s mandate for the church as presented in the declaration to “go and make disciples”.
Unfortunately, much of the debate and discussion centered around the requirement of total abstinence for covenant membership. That is unfortunate because the challenge of being a holy person and living a holy life involves much more than our traditional standards. It is also unfortunate because a clear-cut case for total abstinence is not defensible from Scripture. It will continue to be one of those areas where sincere and committed Christ followers disagree. However, at this point, our church is committed to this being the best position for those of us in leadership. On a personal level, I am also committed to the same. It is totally Biblically to have a different expectation for leaders within a Christian community. In this area (and others), we must go the “extra mile” of living by the standards that represent our collective conscience without a hint of elitism or legalism.
A very welcome provision that is a part of this resolution is the reinstatement of a Student Membership category. (This is similar to the former Junior Membership)
Other Memorials –
Related to Established church status:
(#102) Covenant Membership Requirement for Established Church Status
Number of covenant members needed to organize an established church changed from 10 to 25; and for reclassifying an established church to a developing church changed from 10 to 20.
Passed – effective immediately
(#103) Evangelism requirement for Established Church Status
Effective evangelism in place for established church status by amending ¶ 518.
Passed – effective immediately
(These changes will help us at the district level as we continue to work with churches that are at risk as we seek to bring about revitalization.)
When I saw that doctrinal symposiums were scheduled for the Sunday afternoon and the Monday and Tuesday evening time slots, my first thought was, “I will be surprised if this works.” I couldn’t have been more wrong. These times of worship were characterized by powerful witness, thought-provoking theological insights, and punctuated with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Of particular significance to me was the Tuesday evening focus on “Community Holiness.” I would highly encourage your visiting the Education and Ministry portion of the www.wesleyan.org/em
website where these sessions will be available for download.
On Tuesday morning, I read with great interest Keith Drury’s blog entry, “13 Reasons Why the Votes on GS’s Were Low.” I concur with almost all of his observations. For the most part, the voting was a further reflection of the “anti-institutionalism” atmosphere. I believe this is a sign of increased health and shows the potential for our denomination–which like all denominations, began as a movement–to once again be influenced more by the missional elements rather than institutional hierarchy. While this type of “reinvention” is rare, it is possible.
I am delighted to report that overall there is an increase in diversity among both delegates and leaders. But, as has always been the case, if you are not Anglo, male, and 60+, you have a greatly-reduced chance of being a delegate. (The sobering thought for me is that “I am one” of those.) However, we must be intentional in our local churches, districts, and at the general level to include those who are younger and may be quite different from us in order to further engage our culture.
Overall, I have a new optimism about the future of The Wesleyan Church. I continue to have a great love for and loyalty to the denomination of my birth. It is not a blind loyalty, but a loyalty that spurs me on to be a part of the future as well as the past. The inclusion of our mission stats has made the overall picture of the church look more positive than it actually is. The North American church is essentially plateaued. And we must refuse to comfort ourselves with the notion that this is the pattern of most evangelical denominations. This trend is unacceptable at the local, district and denomination level.
Much of my optimism comes from the passion and commitment of new generations emerging. We must bring them to table at every level.
Additional Reflections and Responses to General Conference:
www.wesleyanstuff.blogspot.com (Real-time reporting and responses by Keith Drury)
http://kenschenck.blogspot.com/ (Insightful and thought provoking writings by the IWU prof)
www.wesleyan.org (official website where earlier I found posts, but there is not much this a.m.)