Diane Wasson Eberhart Reflects on the General Conference

April 04, 2016

A full Deacon serving at Walnut Hills UMC, Diane Wasson Eberhart is an experienced clergy member of the Iowa Conference delegation to the 2016 General Conference, coming up in Portland, Oregon from May 10-20. Although she says that having been to the conference previously makes her a little bit more knowledgeable, that doesn’t necessarily make it easy.

“Some of the process is just hard work, no matter what,” she admits. “Reading through all the materials, and especially being familiar with my legislative section has been really important, so I’ve been doing some reading and some summarizing. This weekend, as we’ve met as a delegation, those of us who are General Conference delegates have presented a summary of our legislative committee materials, so that we can help each other know what’s coming up in the different sections. It also helps us look at how things intertwined between the sections.”

Rewriting the Rules
As a part of the Rules Committee, Diane has a particularly important role, since they are putting together the rules that the General Conference will actually be functioning under this year. “We were asked by the last General Conference to look at doing legislation in a different way,” she says, and the committee has delivered with an alternative legislative process. “We feel that our process of using Robert’s Rules, which is very U.S.-centered, is very unfamiliar for people outside of the United States.”

The alternate process that they are proposing would deal with topics that the General Commission would bring. “We would meet in small groups. We would have a number of petitions that would be brought together and summarized, and the small groups would talk about those things with a trained leader and a monitor,” she explains. “And then the information from those committees, those small groups, would go to a facilitation group of six people that would see if there were any commonalities, and is there anything that could come out of that that would have some kind of consensus. At that point then, whatever the facilitation group would decide would bring that before the General Conference. We would revert back to the Robert’s Rules to debate those and whether we would pass anything or not.”

She’s aware that the proposed process is ambitious. “This is a really new, creative idea, and I know there are a lot of questions about it. There’s some apprehension. But we felt like if we don’t try a new and different way forward, then we would just be keeping doing the same things we’ve done before. We need to look at a new way. We’re a global church. We need to try something different, even though it’s out of our comfort zone.”

Integrating More Technology and More Time
Other major rules that they have looked at include the way speaking and voting is handled. “We also have approved in the rules that we will be using tablets at our tables. So instead of raising cards, you will enter in your willingness to speak and on which, whether for or against, or point of order. We hope that more people feel that they are included, instead of the Bishop trying to see from way in the front people way in the back people who may be wanting to speak.”

“One of the other things that we’ve planned for is to have electronic voting in the legislative committees, which will help the voting feel more safe to some people who have expressed they didn’t feel safe raising hands in the legislative groups.”

Another item they have touched on may seem small, but could give delegates more needed time for rest and fellowship. “We’re proposing that we have adjournment time at 6:30 – the meal break would be at the end of that – so that we can actually experience some time off and Sabbath. So that is one proposal. This would not take away any of the legislative time or worship time. We’d just reschedule things so that we could get done earlier, and go eat afterwards.”

Clearly the Rules Committee has been keeping busy, but none of these ideas are certain yet. “All of these are proposed rules. They have to be voted on the first night, so the General Conference might say they don’t want to do any of these rules. [But] we’re hoping they will.”

Praying for Stamina
The General Conference should be a wonderful time for the delegates, but at a full 10 days, it can also be grueling. Diane cites “having prayer partners within our delegation, so that we have someone to go to and pray for” as being an especially helpful strategy for keeping everybody in good spirits during the conference. “During that week, it does get long, it gets stressful. So we have someone to turn to and say ‘Pray for me.’”

Just the act of sitting for so much of that time can be hard on delegates. “It’s also important to take time to rest and step away. We have reserves that will be there, willing to step in in our places,” she says. “I don’t know how you practice sitting a lot, but my other plan is my hotel is quite a way from the convention center, so walking at least one of the ways there will help, because the days really get long and they get intense.”