We arrive at our last day, and it is welcome. I am ready to go home, as is just about everybody here. This has been a much longer two weeks than I expected it would be. General Conference is hard.
Having tried, over the last ten days, to offer some explanation of what we have been doing--I hope this has been helpful to you--I want to share some thoughts as to the mood here as we enter the last, crazy day.
And let me first say that it is hard for one person to gague the mood. The thing that moves me might make you despair. The thing that worries me might excite you. So know that I'm speaking for myself here, but I'm not alone.
It is an interesting thing to be here, on the floor and in the stands, to follow along with what is happening on Twitter while having actual, face-to-face conversations with people involved in decision-making. Twitter certainly has a feel to it, and it is (can be) complementary to what is happening on the floor, but there's a mood in the room that is viscous, that impacts everybody in one way or another. It's a weight that acknowledges that "if we don't get this right, with God's help, there's nothing that can be done."
That mood is why I believe so strongly in the ability of the Holy Spirit to move at General Conference. Yes, nearly everybody made up their minds months or years before stepping into the voting bar. But with such feelings stitching us together, unexpected things can show up. Possibility can arrive.
That said, there has been the sense, the entirety of the two weeks we've been here, that there's a shoe about to drop. I don't have enough experience at General Conference to know why this is the case. My strong suspicion is that the legacy of the 2012 General Conference in Tampa--when at the last minute, the Judicial Council essentially negated all of the work that had been done for ten days--is that if you are not constantly on edge, you're going to lose. Of course, this makes everyone miserable and turns the General Conference into a hot mess. It's no wonder several delegates have passed out or ended up in the hospital (I am not kidding about this).
More than Tampa hangs over this assembly, though. There is a feeling among many delegates that while we have been spinning our wheels for the last two weeks, machinations have been happening behind the scenes to push shadowy agendas. If it all sounds very House of Cards, that's because it is. And if it sounds conspiratorial, well, it's a feeling that is born of General Conferences past, where behind-the-scenes action, brought to the floor on the last day, is passed by a General Conference that just wants to feel like it has done something. Anything.
We'll see. While I am sure we'll have the typical parliamentary attempts to undo what we've done--when you have 864 delegates, there's bound to be a few people that are less-than-charitable--I don't think we are going to see anything too crazy. On this last day of General Conference, we'll vote on the budget--projected to be $599 million dollars over the next quadrennium--and I suspect that the anxiety we've all felt this week will be made manifest in continual amendments and occasional grandstanding. In many ways, there just isn't time for many shenanigans, because we've done so little this week.
So we'll survive today, just like we've survived all ten days prior. I just have to think that surviving General Conference is a pretty poor way to spend $10 million dollars.
We will finish tonight, go home tomorrow, and enter pulpits and pews on Sunday. We will go back to the business of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And we'll do so with a new urgency, because if there is a way forward for the United Methodist Church, it surely is not going to happen at General Conference, but in our local churches.