The executive team of Western Pennsylvania’s delegation to General and Jurisdictional Conference (Eric Park, chair; Pat Morris, vice-chair; Sharon Gregory, treasurer; Bob Zilhaver, secretary) recently experienced a season of prayerful discernment concerning the work of our delegation. What emerged from that prayerful discernment was a collection of Guiding Principles that we believe could be both instructive and formative for the entire delegation.
At the first meeting of the full delegation (September 24th), the delegation perfected, honed, and, ultimately, approved these Guiding Principles.
The Guiding Principles are not a policy statement. Rather, they are an articulation of several deeply held convictions that, if embraced, will help our conference’s delegation to become more fully the delegation that God is calling it to be.
The delegation has been inspiringly diligent in its work and exceedingly gracious in its spirit. I am honored to stand alongside these women and men in the journey to which we have been called. Please pray regularly for the delegation as its members endeavor to honor the Guiding Principles, thereby incarnating the spirit of Christocentric community in which God calls the entire church to live.
Here are the Guiding Principles to which I have made reference:
Guiding Principles for Western Pennsylvania’s General and Jurisdictional Conference Delegation
Offered with humility and hopefulness by the Delegation’s Executive Team:
Eric Park, Chair; Patricia Morris, vice-chair; Sharon Gregory, treasurer; Bob Zilhaver, secretary
Approved by the entire delegation on September 24, 2011
1. Never lose sight of what a profound honor and privilege it is to serve the church in this unique capacity.
Someone said at this year’s Annual Conference, “Remember, the real honor is being elected to the delegation. But that’s the last time it will feel like an honor.”
That person’s point is clear—that the honor of being elected by our peers soon gives way to the reality of the long and hard work that is before us as a delegation. However, we disagree with the principle behind that point. We believe that the honor and privilege of serving on this delegation is an ongoing reality rather than a short-term affirmation. Our Annual Conference has entrusted us with the sacred responsibility of being an active part of our denomination’s most authoritative bodies: The General Conference and the Jurisdictional Conference.
Remembering the profundity of this honor will help to ensure that we will commit ourselves to giving careful and respectful attention to all of the issues that come before us in our shared work (as opposed to giving selective attention only to the issues that are of particular interest to us). A continued remembering will also help us to resist the temptation to become cynical, myopic, and insensitive when our work is hard, when our hours are long, and when the conferencing becomes trying.
2. Confession and repentance may very well be the most important spiritual disciplines that we practice as a delegation.
Confession and repentance form the doorway through which we enter a perpetual awareness of our personal and corporate sin, our brokenness, our imperfect discernment, and our desperate reliance on God’s saving grace. Such an awareness can help us as a delegation to maintain a spirit of humility in our work, to be more understanding and less critical of the flaws that we perceive in others, and to avoid the pitfall of becoming idolatrous about our own temperament, priorities, and convictions.
3. Commit yourself to loving your colleagues in the delegation.
Committing ourselves to the kind of agapic love described in 1 Corinthians 13 is paramount and foundational for us as a delegation. It will demand of us that we become attentive and sensitive to one another; that we learn to appreciate, value, and respect one another; that we allow ourselves to know and to be known; that we pray for one another as though lives depend upon it; and that we hold one another gently but firmly accountable. This love is rarely easy, but it is always worth cultivating.
4. The diversity of viewpoints and convictions within the delegation is not an obstacle to be avoided, but rather a communal attribute to be explored and embraced.
Within our delegation are diverse and deeply-held convictions concerning a variety of important issues that are facing the church. We do not deepen our sense of community with one another when we hide from our differences. Part of what it means to be a Christ-centered community is to listen to one another, to learn from one another, and to appreciate our diversity as a challenging but crucial portion of our mystical oneness in Christ.
Practically speaking, the members of the delegation will think and vote differently at times. Likewise, we will feel differently about the outcomes of particular votes. Our diversity in this regard makes it incumbent upon us to become relentlessly devoted to the practice of being sensitive to one another’s various emotions and caring for one another in the midst of them.
5. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral (Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience) is one of our most beneficial resources as we contemplate the issues that come before us at General and Jurisdictional Conference.
We are not theological orphans. Rather, we are the offspring of a rich theological heritage that dares to demand of us that we view all issues through the authoritative lens of Scripture—a lens that we bring into sharper focus through the application of tradition, reason, and experience.
We will be called upon to weigh many issues over the next year, including the election of episcopal leaders for our jurisdiction. It will not suffice for us to approach these issues with a pre-established agenda. Rather, we have been called upon to enter the complex and demanding depths of theological discernment in the Wesleyan tradition.
6. We would do well to covenant with one another to be diligent in our work—which can become something healthy only if we also covenant with one another to be intentional in our playfulness.
Sabbath can be hard to find at General and Jurisdictional Conference. The hours are long, and so is the reading list. One of our challenges, therefore, is to generate “Sabbath experiences,” or even “Sabbath moments” in the midst of our shared work. Breaking bread together, exchanging encouraging words and notes with one another, daring to be silly, and helping one another to laugh at life’s absurdities will become nothing less than sacramental playfulness as our responsibilities begin to mount.
7. Remember that the primary task of the church is to BE the church.
Our primary mission is to become what we are called to be—a community so thoroughly reshaped by the reality of Jesus Christ that its people begin to think differently, prioritize differently, and, therefore, LIVE differently. In so doing, we offer a sanctified alternative to what the world has to offer, not because we are inherently better than the world, but because of the One who sanctifies us.
Our principle task in conferencing, then, is not to manipulate processes or to politicize dialogue. Rather, our primary task is to BE the church, to BE a community that dares to incarnate the Way of Christ instead of the ways of a particular government or any other governing body.
How might such a theological conviction shape the way we behave as a delegation? How might it clarify our expectations concerning our work and our purpose? How might our temperament change if we embraced the truth that, while our delegation may not always have the ability to change everything that we would like to change, our more important calling is to BE the church?
8. It is crucial that we understand ourselves to be both delegates and representatives.
This is an important distinction. If we were elected solely as representatives to General and Jurisdictional Conference, then it would be our responsibility to maintain the particular platforms and agendas bestowed upon us by the Annual Conference we represent. Our nomenclature here, however, is significant. We were elected as delegates—from the Latin, “delegare,” which means to depute, entrust with particular responsibility, or send on a mission.
If we were solely representatives, our task would be to uphold a pre-established agenda. As delegates, however, our task is to study, pray, fast, converse, and, ultimately, conference, all for the purpose of discerning our best understanding of God’s will and purposes. We have been delegated to something significantly more complex and dynamic than representation. In fact, we have been delegated to the hard, sacred, and, at times, mystical work of holy conferencing, ecclesiastical visioning, and communal discernment.
As delegates, our prayerful and attentive presence for the entirety of the time of conferencing is essential. Arriving late or leaving early compromises the integrity and effectiveness of our delegation.
It must be clearly understood, however, that, while our role as delegates is essential, we are also entrusted with the responsibility of being representatives of the life, ministry, and integrity of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference. At the General and Jurisdictional Conferences, we will be the only portion of our conference’s ministry that the other delegates will ever see. As such, it is our responsibility to conduct ourselves in a manner that honors the laity, clergy, and churches that we represent.
9. Pray without ceasing, since the prayer of righteous people is powerful and effective.
It is our shared responsibility to pray for one another (specifically and by name), to pray for our churches, and to pray for the Church. In fact, our ardent prayer will be the most vital thing that we offer as a delegation.
Prayer is neither the offering of a superficial wish list nor the trivial crutch of a feeble mind. It is rather the divinely appointed conduit through which the living Presence of God makes its way into human lives and human circumstances, sometimes changing things for people and other times equipping people for challenging things. If prayer is something this weighty and powerful, then we can ill-afford to be haphazard as a delegation in our commitment to prayer.
10. Find comfort in the fact that, irrespective of the particular decisions made at the General and Jurisdictional Conferences, Jesus will still be Lord and the Church will still have its mission: To Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.
Remembering this will help us to keep everything in its appropriate perspective. It will also enable us to remain focused on the fact that, ultimately, our work is all about Jesus and the furthering of the kingdom that he inaugurated through his life, death, and resurrection.