Women, Youth, Race Monitoring Agencies Host Joint Pre-GC Briefing
More than 500 people packed a ballroom of the Tampa Convention Center in Florida for a pre-conference briefing for delegates to the 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, April 24.
United Methodist Women, the Division on Ministry with Young People, General Commission on Religion and Race and the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (COSROW) co-sponsored the event designed to not only acquaint delegates with the workings of the denomination’s quadrennial legislative meeting but to facilitate networking and inclusion of the voices and concerns of women, youth and racial and ethnic groups throughout conference deliberations.
The briefing, which included blocks of time for delegates to gather in their assigned legislative groups, opened with worship and panel presentations that emphasized the importance of listening and inclusiveness in decision making.
“The United Methodist Church is a great church! We have so many ministries that I think every letter of the alphabet has been used. But the church is dying because as members get older they are not reaching out to youth effectively enough,” said 16-year-old Sam Sim, a panelist and first reserve delegate from Greater New Jersey Conference. He shared how his faith came alive when he joined a church youth group. “Youth are not only the church of today but of tomorrow.”
Harriett J. Olson, head of the Women’s Division, United Methodist Women’s national policymaking arm, urged the delegates to make decisions that respond to the concerns of youth, women, people of color and different languages because these are the growing demographics in the United States and around the world.
“Our population is getting younger, has many more languages and is more female,” Ms. Olson said. “There will be 10 General Conferences by the time Sam is the age of the average United Methodist now: 56. What will the church look like then? If we sense the Holy Spirit moving ahead of us, if we have the sense that we are called for the transformation of the whole world, what would we do?”
Ms. Olson urged the delegates to ask how the policies they consider during General Conference will affect women, youth, people of color and various language groups to help the church be a welcoming place for “the world that God so loved.”
While this was the first joint briefing of youth, racial/ethnic/language groups and women, United Methodist Women and COSROW have long co-sponsored pre-General Conference briefings for women.
“In 1972, women were 13 percent of the delegates; 1, 3,” said COSROW chief executive Garlinda Burton. “In 2012, 37 percent of the delegates are women. That’s a blessing, but remember that women are 56 percent of the church so we have a ways to go.”
Most of the participants were first-time delegates to General Conference. They were encouraged not to let that stop them from volunteering for leadership positions in their various committees.
“This was very helpful,” Leanne Nakanishi, a first–time delegate from California-Pacific Conference and president of the conference United Methodist Women, said of the event. “If you’re new as a delegate and you have the DCA [Daily Christian Advocate] in front of you, it’s like a phonebook! So, to be able to dialogue with others with all their perspectives is great. I enjoyed being with women and talking about how to unite our voices. It was good being with such positive and enthusiastic people.”
Separate briefings for youth, racial-ethnic monitors and women followed the joint event.
Yvette Moore is editor of response, the magazine of United Methodist Women.