We are in the midst of a global pandemic. Life is different. Church is different. Annual conference, we knew, would be different. Limited. Lacking.
But what happened at the 2020 annual meeting of the Upper New York Conference is unacceptable.
No one expected perfection, but we did expect perfection to be striven for. Instead we and the Holy Spirit were locked out of the room.
There was no legislative process. No transparency. No participation. No worship. No breaks. No rules committee meeting before our rules were printed. No time to review recommendations and reports, which we received, incomplete and out of date, just two weeks before the conference.
We have a communications and worship team able to give us Holy Spirit and Holy Conferencing each year. They were denied this chance Saturday. Our hearts are broken. (But our spirits are not.)
The COVID-19 global health crisis has changed life for all of us. We’ve been forced to adapt how we do church and mourn the ways in which we can’t. It has been taxing and trying. Yet across our conference pastors and laity found ways to worship, serve and connect. We who call ourselves Christian know we need to feed and be fed, especially during times of crisis.
We’ve done this without help from our bishop. Instead of reaching out, he retreated. We know he’s done with this denomination, but we can’t be faulted for expecting him to not be done with his conference. We can’t be faulted for expecting him to do his job.
A rescheduled annual conference offered the blessing of time to prepare for the new circumstances. In the time between the April announcement of annual conference’s postponement and the October meeting, churches and technology found new, friendly, accessible ways to be together, do business and praise God. Other annual conferences met using familiar technology that allowed people to see one another and participate as fully as possible.
The Upper New York Annual Conference has no excuse for what happened Saturday—not circumstance, not limitations of technology, not surprise. Those who made the decisions failed us.
Silenced and separated
Extending grace does not mean accepting negligence. It is extending grace to consider Saturday negligence and not malice.
The call-in system was confusing and difficult. Participants could not hear callers clearly. The poor audio made captioning so incomplete as to require us to question if our meeting was even legal, for possibly not meeting the conference and denominational standards for accessibility. The conference, with a call for declaratory decision, will let the United Methodist Judicial Council decide this for us.
A familiar platform like Zoom would have done wonders to help participants feel like we were together. We couldn’t even see the names of the people in attendance, let alone see faces in the way Zoom would have easily allowed, hearing and seeing clearly those with motions and questions and those answering questions.
Zoom and similar platforms offer the ability to mute all participants, to limit chat. There are very few valid arguments against using familiar platforms most know and most other annual conferences in The United Methodist Church used.
Somehow, after annual conference, a time of coming together, we felt even more separated.
Some tried to amend our organizational motion to allow the body to make amendments. They were silenced, technical problems as the excuse, while those arguing to disallow amendments were given disproportionate time. Two of those speaking against the motion were cabinet members present in the makeshift studio, whom we could thus hear perfectly clearly.
We heard that our annual conference is the defendant in eight cases regarding the Child Victims Act. We heard that several churches are being named. This topic was given just a few minutes in a trustees report focused on how the conference plans to protect itself. Then we moved on.
We would direct you to watch video of the livestream, but it’s not yet available.
Justice for all
We seek justice in the system, accountability in the budget and a valuing of all voices as inherently important as a means of enabling our work of full inclusion for LGBTQIA United Methodists and other marginalized groups.
God makes space for all people to be loved, inspired and work together. We will keep calling on the church to do the same.
We are the Church
We could have been together Saturday, even if virtually. We could have been encouraged and inspired, but instead we were silenced and our presence treated with disdain. We could have been fully informed, but instead we were given incomplete materials with little time for review and our rubber-stamp expected.
What happened Saturday was not church.
But we are the church. You are not alone. Reach out to us and tell us what you need. Let’s create together the nourishment and support we were not given.