Agenda Committee facilitates flow of the General Conference

The Rev. Dr. Tracy Smith Malone presents the report from the Committee on Agenda and Calendar to the 2016 General Conference meeting in Portland, OR. UMR photo by Jay Voorhees

The Rev. Dr. Tracy Smith Malone presents the report from the Committee on Agenda and Calendar to the 2016 General Conference meeting in Portland, OR.

Portland, OR — It’s 6:30 in the morning and the halls of the Oregon Convention Center are for the most part empty. However, in a downstairs meeting room, every seat at the table is full as the Rev. Dr. Tracy Smith Malone calls the morning meeting of the Committee on Calendar and Agenda to order. Malone, the District Superintendent of the Chicago Southern District of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference, had been elected by her colleagues on the committee as the chair, and with a steady voice, she brought the conversation around the table to a close as she invited the table to focus in on the work ahead.

“There shall be a Committee on Calendar and Agenda…” the rules of the General Conference stipulate. The committee is composed of 15 members drawn from each jurisdiction, with at least 6 being lay members of the General Conference, and also includes membership from the Commission on General Conference and the elected Coordinator of the Calendar. The role of the committee, the rules say, is “guiding the order of business of the Conference.”

It’s a large task, for the General Conference considers well over a thousand pieces of legislation in addition to receiving reports from various agencies and electing various officers. There are many different organizations and agencies who all want access to make presentations to the General Conference, and among the delegates are competing priorities on the importance of legislative items. The Committee on Agenda and Calendar must sort through all of these voices asking for time and decide what business should come before the conference and when that business is to be conducted. Some of those decisions in regards to agency presentations, celebrations, and worship services are made by the Commission on General Conference’s Program Committee. However, once the General Conference assembles, the Agenda and Calendar Committee takes over, and they gather over breakfast every morning at 6:30 a.m. to discuss the Conference’s progress,

At this meeting, the Committee has been joined by the chairs of the legislative committees of the General Conference, as well as the bishops scheduled to preside for that day. Malone, with the assistance of Susan Brumbaugh, the coordinator of the calendar, reviews the legislative items are available for consideration by the General Conference, and consults with the legislative committee chairs about their priorities for presentation. The chairs, along with the agenda committee, consult a spreadsheet projected on a screen in the center of the horseshoe-shaped table so that they can all see what’s before them and decide the order of presentation for the day. Staff from the General Conference Secretary’s office distribute copies of the Daily Christian Advocate and other papers to help guide the conversation as the group shares about committee priorities. The pace of the conversation can be rushed given the amount of work that must be done in their 90-minute meeting, but Malone reminds the committee to slow down to help the non-English speaking delegates as they translate the conversation into their native language.

This is Malone’s second time to serve on the Agenda Committee, and her first time to chair. Throughout the two weeks, she has worked hard to ensure that all voices are heard and that the Committee is considering multiple points of view.

“What surprised me,” Malone said in thinking about the work of the Agenda Committee, “is that amount of collaboration that is necessary between the committee and the legislative committee chairs. It’s important, of course, for them to manage the work that has come out of their committees and it’s up to us to work with them and make sure that the good work they’ve done really makes it to the floor.”

Emily Allen, a lay delegate from the California-Nevada Annual Conference and the secretary of the Agenda Committee likewise was surprised about the amount of collaboration she experienced in the morning meetings.

“I was expecting more blatant politics,” Allen said.  “I thought that there would be people arguing over their legislation coming first and that other legislation should be buried. It really wasn’t that way at all.”

Allen said that she was surprised to see how the conversation was more oriented around process than politics.

“We focused more on things that are prioritized by the Discipline  and the rules of the conference,” Allen said. “Sure we had some negotiations throughout but having a process about how to lay out the items for consideration and then arguing based on that process works when you have a group of people who are process oriented sitting together in a committee.”

Back at the meeting, Malone reminds everyone that the time is getting short. “We have 15 minutes until worship begins,” Malone tells the committee. “Let’s make sure we are all on the same page.”

Brumbaugh reviews the items that the committee has selected for consideration that day. “Does that sound good ,” Malone asks. “Do I get an amen for today’s schedule?”

“Amen,” those around the table respond.

With that, the General Conference’s business is set for the coming day.



Jay Voorhees, Former Executive Editor

The Rev. Jay Voorhees is the Executive Editor of The United Methodist Reporter and the Chief Creative Officer for CircuitWriter Media LLC which operates this site and Jay is an ordained elder in the Tennessee Annual Conference. Jay has written on life and the practice of faith in The United Methodist Church at Only Wonder Understands since 2003.

Facebook Twitter Google+ YouTube 

Leave a Reply

The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
1 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
1 Comment authors
Dave Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of

Thank you, Jay, for this and the numerous other very fine articles you have prepared and shared during this important session. You do good work … to the benefit of us back home. Blessings …

Dave in TN

%d bloggers like this: