The Language of Legislation, Grassroots Style

Date Posted: 2/12/2015

In January, a record number of contributors submitted resolutions to be considered by TAC for 2016 General Conference, demonstrating a variety of perspectives and collaboration at its best.
Was it a series of workshops or a conversation? Both. “Several of our delegates wanted to encourage others to engage in the process, so they organized several open gatherings in recent months -- and what resulted was the TAC’s first grassroots initiative for writing legislation for the 2016 General Conference,” explains B.T. Williamson, Assistant to the Bishop.
Dozens – both clergy and lay -- enjoyed personally exploring the process of writing legislation. The result: a kaleidoscope of ideas on paper that were submitted to the Texas Annual Conference as proposed resolutions this January.
Rev. Chappell Temple, Christ UMC Sugarland, Central North District Superintendent Morris Matthis and a few other GC delegates began the process last fall with a workshop to learn more about the constitution. “We put out an open invitation to all who love the church and want to help, and people came from all over the conference to contribute to the discussion. As we worked together, different perspectives were offered but in terms of both the content and spirit of it, I experienced who we are as United Methodists at our very best,” notes Morris.
At the January 17 session at Lakeview, explains Chap, “Several brought forth resolutions to share with the group—some of whom were members of the existing delegation, but most of whom were lay and clergy who were simply interested in the legislation process.  That was an extremely helpful session to get feedback, hear reaction, and make alterations to ideas before submitting them to the conference office.”
Explains Morris, “Individuals presented their legislation and we processed them in small groups, providing reflection and input. Hearing our responses gave the authors of the resolutions ideas they could use to fine tune their language, or they could choose to change nothing before they submitted it. ”
Rev. Jonathan Bynum, Bear Creek UMC, was among the newcomers learning about the process. “Because this is the first time I have ever considered putting forward a resolution, learning the ‘nuts and bolts’ of legislation writing has been very helpful and has lowered the intimidation factor for me,” he says. “Also, by sharing our resolutions, we received insights from others to further refine the language of the legislation and our thinking in regards to the topic addressed. More than anything else, though, it was a reminder that we are a connectional church, here to support one another—whether we agree on everything, or not.”
North District Lay Leader Sue Sullivan, First UMC Jefferson, agrees. “The meeting was beneficial to clergy and laity in our conference. We were given copies of resolutions submitted and the writer of resolution was present (or representative) to explain rationale behind the requested changes.  I feel it is important for all of us, clergy and laity, to stay current on legislative issues within our church.”
“My own impression of the meeting at Lakeview,” add Chappell, “ was that it was a congenial and helpful time, and I really appreciated the feedback from others.  I appreciate Morris Matthis, as well, for taking the lead to get the group together and to act as the moderator for the day’s discussions.”
Participants Enjoy Collaboration
“I attended the workshops in Livingston and Lakeview in preparation for the coming General Conference in 2016,” shares Dr. William Brown of Tyler. “To be effective in making disciples, church will have to be done increasingly at the local and annual conference level. This gathering of lay and clergy leaders of the Texas Annual Conference was an opportunity to discuss those changes that the church might consider to move forward and to experience successful ministry. As a result of these two meetings, I gained a better understanding of polity and processes necessary to effect change, as well as an opportunity to consider those changes (via the legislative process) expected to have a positive impact our church.” He adds, “We can now get a jump start on advancing important legislation and build relationships with those who can be advocates for needed changes in the Discipline, allowing Texas Methodists to experience a needed rebirth of our church.”
Rev. Carolyn Huntsman, Percilla UMC, calls her experience at General Conference 2012 in Tampa both disappointing and frustrating, because “delegates saw resolution after resolution, that we had voted on, struck down by our Judicial Council because they were deemed unconstitutional. Therefore, our gathering at Lakeview was very helpful as we studied and discussed ways to write legislation that would withstand scrutiny.”
Bering UMC Pastor Ernie Turney says, “I saw several of us pointing to the center both theologically and practically. We must move beyond the 2008 Book of Discipline...there are too many issues facing the church that are beyond the conversations around marriage and ordination. We must not let one issue divide us.”
Donel King, Jurisdictional Delegate 2008 and 2012 found the meeting regarding proposed legislation to be insightful and a worthwhile drive. “As facilitator, Rev. Matthis kept refocusing the group through several proposed amendments that could impact our denomination. The proposed language changes for the Constitution centered on identifying unifying solutions. My ‘take-away’ was that a holy conversation did occur and common ground is possible.”
Next Steps
A record number of resolutions submitted to the conference in mid-January deal with a variety of topics, including the issue of human sexuality, the matter of educational and ordination requirements, the tenure of district superintendents, and possibilities for the realignment or reduction of the five existing jurisdictions. Additionally, there are resolutions related to the economic community and death penalty.
The Texas Annual Conference Core Leadership Team affirmed and encouraged the grassroots work while recognizing the limitations of the CLT’s authority. The CLT voted to refer them on to the Annual Conference for its decision, affirming the authors of the resolutions for their good work.
Notes Chappell, “I submitted three resolutions and it’s my personal hope, of course, that all three proposals gain the support of the annual conference and can be sent by the conference itself to the General Conference. If they do not pass, I will probably still submit them as an individual.  A resolution coming from a large conference such as our own will likely garner more attention and carry more weight than one that comes from an individual member or congregation. When we have spoken, we have been largely effective, helping to change the language and length of provisional membership (formerly known as probationary membership), for instance, and the status and franchise of local pastors, both initiatives which came from this conference.”
Rev. Curtis Matthys, First UMC Sealy shares, “I went to the gathering thinking I would mostly listen and maybe learn a little about the proposed changes that we might see this year at Conference, but I soon learned I would be very much a part of the discussion. The format for presenting and then discussing the proposals gave everyone a chance to be part of the process. After each proposal was read, we broke into smaller groups to discuss and then give input to the author of the proposal. Not only did I learn a lot about the proposals, I know the authors walked away with very valuable insight and reactions to what they will bring to the floor of Annual Conference.” Adds Curtis, “For me it was well worth my time and energy to be a part of this process. I believe we as a Conference, and the universal church will benefit from what happened in these meetings. I hope we will continue these types of conversations and that others will adopt this process too.”
According to Diane McGehee, Director of the Center for Missional Excellence, committees will now review the legislation and work together to prepare resolutions for presentation and discussion at district meetings leading up to Annual Conference. “Due to the number we received, we might suggest groups collaborate to bundle some of them together to be more efficient on the conference floor.”
Adds Diane, “The fact that so many people were interested and involved around their passions is great because this is one of our strengths as Methodists,” she says. “We are a diverse body with many theological, political and social views who focus on the core of our faith while participating in holy conferencing.”