Portland, OR – Participants at the 2016 Pre-General Conference Briefing got a hands-on look at a new proposed small group process for Christian conferencing, proposed for use by the Commission on General Conference for the 2016 General Conference. The General Conference, the top-level legislative body of the church involving delegates from throughout the world will be meeting in May at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.
Today’s presentation outlined the process proposed for Rule 44, a new means of deliberation that moves away from Roberts Rules of Order toward a more conversational process of decision-making.
“It’s called Rule 44,” said Judi M. Kenaston, chair of the Commission on the General Conference, “simply because it follows Rule 43 in our rules of organization. Some have wondered if there is any special significance to the name, but there’s not.”
Kenaston and a team of leaders led Pre-General Conference Briefing participants through the proposed small group process. According to the new rule, if adopted by the General Conference, delegates would be assigned to small groups of no more than 15 persons. Each group will have a leader (selected from the conference delegates) who will facilitate the conversation process. The groups will also have a non-delegate monitor whose task is to ensure that a set of guidelines for the process is observed throughout the conversation. The leaders will help the group consider a petition using a set of questions which move from personal feelings about the proposed legislation to the specifics about the petition itself. A secretary selected from the delegates will use a standardized means of reporting the results on the conversation. The results from all the groups are then reviewed and tabulated by a Facilitation Team who then brings the legislation to the full General Conference body. The full rule which outlines the process and guidelines can be viewed on page 93 of the Advanced Daily Christian Advocate, which may know be downloaded for review by clicking here.
There has been speculation in various sources that this proposal was a means for avoiding legislative action on issues related to sexuality, a long-time source of division in the church. However Kenaston said that was not the case. She reminded all that the 2012 United Methodist General Conference had directed the Commission to consider means of conferencing that moved away from Roberts Rules of Order, which are distinctively American in nature. The proposed “Rule 44” process is an attempt to offer an alternative means of discernment which can be used at any time for issues which “…span different paragraphs of the Discipline, or on topics that would benefit by the input of as many voices as possible.” (ADCA p.45)
While Rule 44 (if adopted) would allow for this process to be used as needed, Kenaston noted that it is the intention of the Commission on the General Conference to offer a separate proposal to have all petitions related to human sexuality addressed under this process. No explanation was offered for the Commission’s decision to suggest that Rule 44 be used for these petitions.
In the trial run of the process briefing participants were asked to consider an old piece of legislation that is not up for consideration at this year’s conference and walk through the process. In the course of that exercise suggestions were offered to streamline and improve the process overall.
The ultimate goal, said Kenaston, was to create a process in which the conference is encouraged to: (1) Love the Lord our God and love our neighbor; (2) emphasize the centrality of relationship and call to deeper relationship; and (3) expect the imitation of Christ in all we do.
For more information on the 2016 United Methodist General Conference visit http://umc.org/gc2016.