The first of a regular blog by laity of The Michigan Area of The United Methodist Church.
ANNE SOLES, West Michigan Conference Lay Leader
VICKY PREWITT, Marquette District Lay Leader
On June 1st 1,740 United Methodists will “take over” Grand Traverse Resort in Traverse City for a combined Annual Conference. It’s an exciting time in Michigan as members of the Detroit Annual Conference and West Michigan Conference continue to make the final decisions to become one body. Also coming to this annual meeting and discussing some historic decisions are two member of the newly combining Board of Laity.
Vicky: I am excited! And a little nervous. Hello, I am Vicky Prewitt, newly chosen Lay Leader for the Marquette District. This is my first time attending Annual Conference. I’m not sure what to expect. So, to help me–and anyone else out there who is a little uncertain about the conference–is someone who knows a lot about what’s going on.
Anne: I am Anne Soles, Conference Lay Leader (WMC). No one knows quite what to expect this year! I’ve come, I’ve planned and still this is new: new place, new double format, new rules to make new decisions. We have work to do separately and together. The Michigan Area Conference is taking shape under our feet during this week. Have you looked at the 200 pages of decision items?
Vicky: 200 pages? Can I get a copy of that ahead of time, or do I pick that up at Conference?
Anne: Registration included a place to request a print copy. Otherwise you may use the on-line version. Go to 2017.michiganumc.org to prepare. This site has the schedule, the special events, more about the location. And that big legislation section. You might want to print some of the pages for reference (or the whole thing!)
Vicky: that still sounds like a lot of decisions! Can you tell me some of the biggest decisions we will be making?
Anne: The decisions come as legislations and are called Items. And they come in three varieties: Items 2 and 3 from the Design Team, items for action such as budgets, and five General Conference Amendments for Yes or No vote. Have we talked about legislative groups?
Vicky: No, what are those?
Anne: As a delegate you are assigned to a legislative group. Friday morning the legislative or LEAD groups meet and take up assigned petitions. You’ve been sent your group number and the Decision Items overview shows your group’s assignment. Because they are randomly assigned, these smaller groups can and do represent the body as whole known as the “plenary”. Your group can vote to put some of the easy Items on to a consent calendar. That’s a great time saving move. With the consent calendar, the plenary can vote on a number of Items in one batch, saving time to discuss more difficult Items in detail as a whole.
Vicky: Items 2 and 3 are the new conference design and the question about the number of districts. I just checked it out on my phone. I’ve heard that Items can be changed but not all of them. How does that work?
Anne: We will discuss and vote on the new conference design and the number of districts (Items 2 and 3) in full session. And each legislative group will discuss Items 2 and 3 as well. This will help to bring everyone up to speed for that full session vote.
Vicky: If there is an Item someone wants to change, how do we do that?
Anne: Raise you voting card, get the recognition of the facilitator (or the Bishop if we are in full session) and come to the microphone. Best to have the change written down so that it can be shown on the screen. The facilitator or the Bishop will ask if the group wants to entertain the motion to amend. Then there’s discussion and a vote. We are going to use Item 4 as a trial run during Lay Member Orientation on Thursday afternoon. General Conference Amendments are a simple yes or no to ratify work from the 2016 General Conference.
Vicky: OK, so we have some prep work to do. Is this whole weekend all work and no play? Please tell me we will have some fun, too.
Anne: When are you arriving? I hear some members form the Upper Peninsula may still be driving five hours to come. Conference begins Thursday but Wednesday has golf, a Traverse Area mission and ministry tour, meetings, trainings and setups. This is also a chance to meet friends or just connect. There will be a BBQ Welcome for Bishop Bard on Friday evening. The Native American churches in the Traverse area have invited visitors and transportation, too. Mission Fair will be running throughout the conference and Susan Beaumont will be teaching. You really need to find that schedule!
Vicky: I remember people from my congregation have had some inspiring things to say about the worship experiences at Conference.
Anne: Imagine singing in a choir of 2000 people—people who like to sing! Absolutely amazing and it comes in all kinds of styles and flavors from jazz to traditional to ethnic groups, a children’s choir. But that sound of worship is almost like a roar….on key, of course. We Mark Sacred Time, process through Ordination with proud new pastors on their way into service. And everything in between.
Vicky: All this is really adding to my excitement for my first Annual Conference. I know our Board of Laity (BOL) team is doing some special things to help break the ice. I won’t spill the beans on that. I know we will be meeting a lot of new people. Anne, you mentioned name tags earlier. Will the BOL have some extra on our tags so that people know who we are?
Anne: The Board of Laity members are District Lay Leaders from Ann Arbor to Marquette, Kalamazoo to Cross Roads along with UMW, Lay Servant Ministries, UMM and Scouting. They can help with questions. And so can the Grace Patrol, our hospitality team. Grace Patrol members wear vests. The rest of us have ribbons. Do ask those questions!
Vicky: One final question. After conference is over, what then for the people who came? Any suggestions about how we can help tell our congregations about what has happened and is still to come for the Michigan Area Conference?
Anne: It is up to you; you lay members are the Last Mile in connecting our congregations with the spirit, the facts, the decisions, the excitement of the annual conference. In the 1800’s Annual Conference members greeted each year at conference with the phrase “are we yet alive”. Your participation and your report is how the “alive” continues.
Editor’s Note: There will be Daily News from Annual Conference in the form of emailed pdf’s sent to all on the MIConnect Weekly Mailing list. Conference will also be live-streamed and a Michigan Annual Conference overview will be featured in the June 8 edition of MIConnect.