PORTLAND, Ore. (May 20, 2016) -- Stroll through the great halls of the Oregon Convention Center during General Conference, and you’ll see many familiar faces. Some are bishops or popular preachers. Some are newsmakers in the religious press. Some are our very own Holston Conference delegates, among 864 total delegates from around the world.
You’ll also see familiar faces from Holston Conference who traveled to Portland with loved ones or committed time and money to witness and participate in the mega meeting.
Annie Goddard arrived in the Pacific Northwest four days after the beginning of May 10-20 General Conference, to join her mother and Holston delegate Rev. Kim Goddard. As a junior majoring in political science at East Tennessee State University, Goddard thought she might benefit by observing the legislative committee meetings and plenary sessions.
“It’s a lot more official than I thought it would be. I thought it would be more laidback and conversational,” said Goddard, who calls Mafair United Methodist her home church. “It has a congress kind of feel with motions, seconds – ‘you can’t say this now, you’re out of order, but we’ll let you say this later.'”
Goddard said she also liked hearing delegates speak different languages and seeing the many interpreters at work: “You get to see the church on a bigger spectrum.”
Mara Briggs, a student at Roanoke College, also joined her mother in Oregon, serving along with the Rev. Mary K Briggs as a volunteer marshal.
“I think that my daughter would say she really wanted to come to Portland, so her mom made her do it,” Mary K Briggs said of their volunteer duties. This is the third time the pastor has served as a General Conference marshal, including Pittsburg in 2004 and Houston in 2008.
“I enjoy … experiencing firsthand how our denomination works at this level, and serving the church in this way,” said Briggs, chaplain at Emory & Henry College. “One of my favorite parts is seeing so many of my seminary classmates whom I don't see often, because we serve around the world.”
Rev. Michael Reynolds, minister of counseling at First-Centenary United Methodist Church, and his wife, Annette Reynolds, are also serving as marshals.
“Our role is multi-faceted,” Michael Reynolds said, explaining how marshals protect the delegates’ work spaces from non-delegates by checking badges and credentials. Marshals also receive offerings, ensure that delegates have working voting equipment, and direct traffic at the bustling plenary sessions.
“Each session is tiring … Each of us have been walking nearly 10,000 steps each day,” Reynolds said.
Yet being on location for the once-every-four-years meeting offers a big picture of the complexity and enormity of the denomination and the care that goes into reviewing the Book of Discipline, he said.
“The seriousness with which the church takes to make sure the proper language, sentences, phrases or even a particular word is in the right place enforces the idea the Book of Discipline has been well thought out and thoroughly discussed by people from all over United Methodism."
The Rev. Peggy Meade has nearly completed her first-ever General Conference as a volunteer page, with responsibilities including carrying notes and supplies to delegates.
“I specifically wanted to come to Portland for this General Conference,” said Meade pastor at Carpenter’s Campground United Methodist Church. “I thought it was a pivotal time in the church. We are at a turning point, one way or the other.”
Like the other volunteer marshals and pages – and unlike the delegates, whose travel expenses are covered -- Meade is responsible for her own expenses. The total will come to about $4,000 for air fare, hotel, and meals for two weeks, she said.
“I used my continuing ed money from my church, and the Maryville District gave me some reimbursement,” Meade said. (Briggs said that a General Conference offering is typically collected and split among the marshals and pages. In 2008, she received about $80.)
The Rev. Adam McKee came to Portland to join his wife, alternate delegate Charlotte McKee, but spent the latter part of his trip resting with pneumonia. Earlier in the week, he was spotted in the exhibit hall, visiting the Red Bird Missionary Conference and Henderson Settlement displays.
“I’m having a ball, seeing the worldwide church and interacting with people from all over the world, just having everyday conversations,” said the Oak Ridge District superintendent.
McKee also liked sitting in on some of the Local Church legislative committee meetings with his wife: “It was interesting to see people bring their legislation forth and the passion they have for the local church and ministry … I love seeing the church at work. I’m very thankful to the people of Oak Ridge District for allowing this to happen.”
Rev. Robert Amundsen grew up in Holston Conference as a member at Shouns United Methodist Church. For the last 16 years, he’s been a pastor in the Red Bird Missionary Conference, currently at Thousandsticks United Methodist Church.
“It’s a totally different experience that what you see on the live stream and what people post on social media,” Admundsen said. “The worship service is a totally different experience … and seeing people stand up in the plenary sessions gives you a sense of how much people care about their church. You can really see it in their body language and the way they speak.“
Mitzi Sadler-Thorne, a member at Narrows United Methodist Church, spent a few days in Portland as part of her training to become a United Methodist deaconess. She was disappointed to see that delegates could “act all worshipful in the morning and then start back-biting each other in the afternoon.”
“It’s ugly,” she said. “I know that’s not what God wants. I agree with what Sandra Johnson said. I wish the Holy Spirit was all up in it.“
Sadler-Thorne said she didn’t realize that General Conference could be so political. “I realize that to some extent it has to be. There has to be some kind of order, but I wonder if it doesn’t overshadow our intent to win people to Christ. We’re supposed to love everybody. That’s the bottom line.”