The Executive Committee of the Commission on the General Conference has narrowed the list of petitions that they are recommending be handled through an alternative discernment process – dubbed Rule 44 – from 101 to 56.
Rule 44 is designed to provide a safe space in which all delegates can contribute to the discussion, find new ways of participating in dialogue so that it becomes clearer what issues need to be addressed, foster a renewed sense of community and embody a credible Christian witness on how people can work together even in conflict. The recommendation for a new process came after the 2012 General Conference requested a more constructive and respectful way to discuss difficult decisions.
The General Conference will have an opportunity to vote on whether to use the process and, if approved, what business will be subject to the rule.
The Commission had previously recommended that delegates utilize the process, which is based on a practice that originated in the Uniting Church in Australia, for all legislative petitions regarding human sexuality.
“The Commission wanted a plan with a proven track record. The Uniting Church in Australia has been able to address contentious issues in a respectful way using this process, and garnered high levels of agreement,” said the Rev. Gere Reist, secretary of the General Conference. “Other organizations like the World Council of Churches and the World Communion of Reformed Churches have successfully used it also.”
Reist said the petitions secretary originally identified 101 petitions related to human sexuality, but committee members decided it was not feasible to handle that volume of petitions in the allotted time.
Reist worked with the Rev. Terence Corkin, former General Secretary of the National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia, to identify those that were most directly related to human sexuality issues. The list will be published in the first Daily Christian Advocate.
Corkin, a consultant and trained church mediator, was responsible for leading a similar process at six meetings of their National Assembly and will be involved in introducing the process in the plenary session.
“What we found very, very quickly was that people felt empowered to participate and they started to collaborate … the purpose is to work together, to work out what God wants at this time and this place in this community,” said the Rev. Corkin. He said the culture of his church has changed enormously in the last 12-15 years that they have been using this process.
He says the process, which calls for discussion in small groups before plenary voting led by delegates nominated by the annual conferences, allows more voices to be heard.
“What I’ve found in working with churches and international groups is that people actually appreciate being asked to talk together face-to-face about the things that matter to them …” explained Corkin. “The intention of the rule is to give us the best chance to see what most people think before we then have to come to a vote on it.”
The ideas and views that arise in these small group discussions will be incorporated into a report written by an elected six-member facilitation group, which moves into the next stage of the discussion for decision by the whole General Conference.
“It’s a way of being in community. It can help a community of faith work together to build a sense of the community’s mind …” said Corkin. “It doesn’t happen in a snap, you’ve got to work it up from the fellowship you create. It’s a way of being together, and I am certain that it doesn’t matter what the issue is, this process allows for those things to happen.”
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