Posted by: morgan1965 | May 18, 2016

Reflections on General Conference: Forty Years Later

It was a beautiful afternoon, May 4, 2016, when our airplane landed in Portland, Oregon. As we were making our descent, I began to think about the fact that it had been forty years since I was last in Portland to attend the General Conference in May of 1976. It was my first General Conference.

The clergy colleagues in the former Southern New Jersey Conference had elected me as the first alternate clergy delegate to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. I was 33 years old and I had been a member of the conference since 1968, a mere eight years. To be sure, my election was both a surprise and an honor. I was a rookie (first time delegate) who was not very familiar with the politics of the UMC at the general church level.

Dr. Charles Sayer, a long time clergy delegate from the Southern New Jersey Conference, took me under his wing and introduced me to General Conference. He introduced me to a number of delegates and church leaders from across the connection. He gave me an opportunity to participate in the conference by allowing me to serve as his alternate on the conference floor several times. I very much appreciated his tutelage and hospitality.

This experience gave me a chance to see the UMC at work. Although I had heard stories about General Conference from my father and read about General conference, this experience provided me with an entirely new view. I came to understand that a first time experience at General Conference is foundational for learning to be an effective delegate at General Conference.

In the subsequent years, I was privileged to serve as a local church pastor for 22 years, and district superintendent for seven years. I did not return to General conference in 1980, largely due to the fact that I transferred to the Northern New Jersey Conference in 1979 to take the appointment at St. Mark’s UMC in Montclair, NJ. In 1984, the Elders of the NNJAC graciously included me in the General Conference clergy delegation. I served as a clergy delegate to General Conference again in 1988, 1992, and 1996. In 1996 the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference elected me to the Episcopacy.

Now, I have returned to Portland as a retired bishop of the church. Looking back, the years have passed by quickly, but the experiences have been rewarding. As I write this blog, I am looking forward with the prayerful attitude that the General Conference delegates will find ways to lead the church into the future. This future, I believe, is filled with hope and promise.

So much has changed since 1976. Portland is certainly not the same. The world is not the same. The UMC is not the same. I am not the same. We cannot cling to the past, but we must discern all the ways that God is leading us forward as pilgrim disciples.

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Responses

  1. Thanks Bishop Lyght for your on-time comments. I am glad you included me in the distribution, and I look forward to reading more of what you write.

    Ed Wimberly


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