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United Methodists seek change in tone at assembly

Aug. 3, 2007 | WASHINGTON (UMNS)

United Methodists want to change the tone of conversation and debate at the church's top legislative assembly in 2008.

Organizers of the denomination's General Conference, which meets April 23-May 2 in Fort Worth, Texas, have endorsed "Guidelines for Holy Conferencing - What God Expects of Us" as a blueprint for such conversation.

The guidelines are in response to long-held concerns that the General Conference more resembles the style and conduct by secular political bodies than the higher expectations of a faith-focused group, according to Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, who leads the Houston Area and is president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.


Bishop Janice Riggle Huie 

The set of 10 principles focuses on respect, civility and mutual understanding, as well as ensuring that diverse voices are heard in the consideration of legislation and resolutions.

Huie pointed out that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed in the use of Holy Conferencing as an organizing and governing principle. As a method of discerning God's direction for the church, "Holy Conferencing sets United Methodists apart from other organizations," she said in a letter introducing the guidelines.

"We urge all who are involved - local congregations, individual writers of petitions and resolutions, members of interest groups and caucuses, general agency members, and delegates - to grow into the spirit of Holy Conferencing," Huie said.

"In much of the Western world, results are measured in terms of winners and losers," she added. "Holy Conferencing does not work that way. It focuses on discerning where God is leading us. It focuses on prayer, rational and respectful conversation, and a belief that with God, all things are possible."


Bishop Sally Dyck 

Bishop Sally Dyck of Minneapolis, who led a working group that refined the guidelines, credited the denomination's young people for bringing the issue to the forefront.

"Our United Methodist young people successfully used these principles when they met in South Africa earlier this year," she said. "Their example is a lesson for the whole church: We can do things differently, respectfully and with God in the forefront."

Dyck, who leads the Minnesota Annual Conference, is encouraging delegations, caucus groups, authors of petitions and resolutions, general agencies and anyone else connected to the General Conference to practice the principles of Holy Conferencing leading up to and during the conference. The guidelines will be posted on the General Conference 2008 Web site, other Web sites and included in delegate materials.

Here are the guidelines:

  • Every person is a child of God. Always speak respectfully. One can disagree without being disagreeable.
  • As you patiently listen and observe the behavior of others, be open to the possibility that God can change the views of any or all parties in the discussion.
  • Listen patiently before formulating responses.
  • Strive to understand the experience out of which others have arrived at their views.
  • Be careful in how you express personal offense at differing opinions. Otherwise dialogue may be inhibited.
  • Accurately reflect the views of others when speaking. This is especially important when you disagree with that position.
  • Avoid using inflammatory words, derogatory names or an excited and angry voice.
  • Avoid making generalizations about individuals and groups. Make your point with specific evidence and examples.
  • Make use of facilitators and mediators.
  • Remember that people are defined, ultimately, by their relationship with God - not by the flaws we discover, or think we discover, in their views and actions.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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