Last year, I participated in worship planning with Rev. Dr. Tanya Linn Bennett and a team of women from Drew and across the Northeastern Jurisdiction for the NEJ Clergywomen's Consultation in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It was an amazing experience, so affirming, and it reconnected me with my call. But one of the ways that the Consultation opened my eyes the most was in the leadership of the current and retired women bishops in the jurisdiction, Bishops Susan Morrison, Violet Fisher, Susan Hassinger, Jane Allen Middleton, and Peggy Johnson. These women had prophetic voices, particularly the retired bishops, and were deeply passionate about supporting clergywomen. However, only Bishops Middleton and Johnson were current bishops, and Bishop Middleton will be retiring this year. We currently have no women of color serving as bishop in our jurisdiction. And so, as we approach Jurisdictional Conference, particularly in the wake of the anti-woman fervor that was General Conference (see Jamie Michael's blog about this), one of my primary concerns is diversity!
This consultation was the first time I really thought about the importance of Jurisdictional Conference. So I was intrigued by the topic of conversation for the biweekly #DreamUMC chat last night. On Monday, June 11, DreamUMC moderated the third #DreamUMC twitter chat, which is a conversation born out of passionate conversation at General Conference among young people who are taking their authority to shape our denomination. The chat is open to everyone, no matter ideological persuasion, age, or geographical location, though because it is on Twitter it can be limiting. This week's conversation centered on Jurisdictional Conferences. DreamUMC asked these three questions:
- What characteristics are you looking for in a potential episcopal leader for your jurisdiction?
- How can/are you organizing to incorporate the model and message of dreamUMC into your JC incl episcopal elections, general bd elections, and any legislation? Or, restated, if we are committed to more open dialogue and process here, how does that translate to JC which is often more closed?
- What novel/prophetic/forward-thinking action would you like to see happen at your JC to equip the church in your region for the ministry ahead?
The issue of diversity did pop up here and there in the #DreamUMC conversation. Primarily, people seemed more concerned about the backroom politicking that goes on, preventing those who are really called to become bishop to be elected. As I saw in previous #DreamUMC conversations (check Facebook for recaps), people across the ideological spectrum seem to want to church to be the church. There is a deep desire for real holy conferencing, which seems to be as rare as unicorns these days.
One of my favorite comments came from @BrianFelkJones who reminded us of the racist roots of Jurisdictions, created after church desegregation began in 1968 to protect regional interests, when he tweeted: "Q3.I would like my JC #ncj to say the JC is an old relic of cultural/theological/racial protectionism & should be done away with!" This, along with other comments about structural change, is tied to the desire for true holy conferencing. We want to be spirit-led, and to be able to listen to the movement of the spirit among us when we are conferencing. Can we do that when, for some jurisdictions, jurisdictional delegates are under a deluge of campaign materials including pamphlets and DVDs from people running for bishop?
At General Conference, I got to be a part of many conversations in which people were trying to imagine The UMC differently. Roberts Rules of Order, for instance, don't really feel like rules Jesus would use should he be leading conference. They certainly do not foster holy conferencing, though the Rules are not the only culprit in that. What are ways that people could really be in conversation, really listen to one another and the Holy Spirit? After GC2012, we saw no room for prophetic witness--- every time someone spoke passionately from the floor it was ignored in favor of status quo. And now we are preparing for each of our jurisdictional conferences. We need to be creative. Our church is suffering under a great lack of imagination. It is conversations like those sparked by #DreamUMC that are stirring us up, keeping us awake and alert to ways we can transform our church.
If you missed the conversation and want to look for themes yourself, DreamUMC compiles the responses, and posts the conversation on Facebook. Please join us for more conversation in two weeks on Monday, June 25, at 9 pm EST. Follow @DreamUMC on Twitter as well.
DreamUMC describes itself on Twitter as: "An open conversation for *all* who want to create a new day for the UMC. What's your dream?"
Shannon Sullivan is a graduate of Drew Theological School in Madison, New Jersey. In July, she will begin serving a two-point charge in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. She is also a member of the OnFire leadership team. She blogs at You'll Never Guess What the Heathens Did Today.