After finally adopting rules of order to govern the proceedings of General Conference (as they were proposed by the rules committee), committee work began this afternoon. I will be serving as a resource person from the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women for the Independent Commissions committee. This committee deals with petitions and resolutions related to the UMC’s commissions (GCSRW, Religion and Race, Archives and History, Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, Communications, and UM Men), as well as ecumenical concerns.
Today’s business involved electing officers. Once it got underway, the process went relatively smoothly. However, it was abundantly evident at the start that how we function as a global church is still a growing edge.
It’s hard enough to keep up with parliamentary procedures for English speakers. It must be extraordinarily difficult for those who follow translations transmitted through headsets, especially when people speak quickly and move swiftly from one action to another.
I don’t think there was any willful exclusion, but the bishop presiding over the elections nearly pressed on despite the fact that headsets were not working for delegates who needed translation. Of course, when you ask, “Does everyone who needs translation have translation?” those who would answer the question have not actually understood it. It also took time to recognize that some delegates could not complete their first ballot because they didn’t know how to spell in English the name of the person for whom they wanted to vote; the names had been written on a sheet of paper in the front of the room, too small to see from the back. Again, the bishop nearly closed the first ballot despite the fact that more time had been requested to address this issue.
I’m not sharing this to indict the presiding bishop. Who it was doesn’t matter. I describe the scene because we in the United States must be reminded that the United Methodist Church is a worldwide connection. We are used to conducting business in English among English speakers. But when we gather together with our sisters and brothers from around the world, patience and sensitivity must be exercised to the extreme.
I also share because I was moved by the efforts of a woman who is a board member of GCSRW and Women’s Division, along with a few volunteers from the Common Witness Coalition, who called attention to the needs of the African delegates. My fellow GCSRW board member said to me, “I know we’re not supposed to say anything from the gallery, but somebody has to make sure these delegates can participate!” By getting the attention of the pages and other voting delegates, eventually the issues were raised and the proceedings paused until the challenges could be addressed and all votes counted.
As the elections proceeded, it occurred to me what a beautiful thing it was that no one who spoke up for fair process hesitated to think about how those delegates might vote, to think about whether or not they’re “on our side.” The only issue that mattered was that all people be brought fully into the conversation and all voices be heard. Making room at the table was the first and only priority!
As Methodists, we are part of a tradition rooted in the idea that the right methods practiced over and over again, perfected through mutual accountability, will cultivate right attitudes and relationships. Being a global church is incredibly hard work! Therefore, may we practice inclusion again and again until our table is properly set and inviting for all.