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Rev. Sean McRoberts is the first alternate clergy delegate for the Iowa Conference to the 2016 General Conference, which is coming up this May in Portland. Though he has visited several General Conferences in the past, this will be his first time there as a part of a delegation, and there is a great deal to be done beforehand.
“There’s a lot of preparation to do, and I think foremost I appreciate our bishop’s call to prayer, to pray for our delegation and to pray for the whole General Conference and our church,” says Rev. McRoberts. “So I’m preparing in prayer, both in my personal devotions and in engaging those in my community who help me to remain spiritually grounded.”
Then there’s the reading, which is extensive. “I’ve been reading the legislation proposed, looking over the opportunities that we’ll be discussing at General Conference, and there’s plenty of study to do there as well.” Much of his reading so far has been on the subjects of higher education and the superintendency. “I’m more familiar just starting out with that area, and I thought that would be the best place to focus.”
There are a total of 12 primary delegates from the Iowa Conference, but Rev. McRoberts has an important role as an alternate. “The formal request is that we be present and ready to step in when we’re needed,” he explains, but the alternates are invited to be there during the entire conference. “I understand there will be a need for the alternates to be present, either in legislative committees, especially in reading legislation to assist with understanding for the whole delegation, and then to be able to serve on the floor.”
To prepare, the group of General and Jurisdictional Conference delegates and alternates have already gathered several times. “Right now we’re in the middle of a weekend retreat together,” he notes, looking over legislative issues that they expect to arise during the conference, and considering the opportunity to name or endorse a candidate for bishop at the Jurisdictional Conference.
“Those times together, I think, are really essential, in order to build the kind of community that will work well in conversation and leadership. Always I think we could use more time together. Several times, even just this weekend, we’ve named the need to build trust among leaders and among the church – time together is essential in building that trust.”
There will be some notable differences at this year’s General Conference, from fewer delegates to a greater representation of conferences outside the U.S. “For me, that’s one of the great blessings of General Conference, to see the rich diversity of the church, physically present together. I think that it will create challenges as we seek to understand the cultural contexts in which we’re in ministry.”
“And I’m realizing even how much I need to grow in my cultural awareness and cultural competency in understanding how the church forms and functions outside of the United States,” he continues. “I like to think that I’ve learned quite a bit. But as I enter into more conversations, especially with people from the Congo, I realize just how different life is for those three million or so United Methodists.”
While Iowa is fortunate to be represented by a wonderful delegation, including Rev. McRoberts, obviously most Iowans will have to keep up with the goings-on in Portland from afar. “I would encourage people to stay as engaged as they can with the process of General Conference, and I’ve been so pleased to see the way that technology has enabled that,” he says. “Look for opportunities to tune into worship services or to floor debate through the web broadcast of the proceedings.”
He also encourages people to be in prayer for the conference and for the Iowa delegation. “It will be a tense time as we deal with the heavy issues that we have in the church, whether it’s how we structure for a global ministry or how we address homosexuality and discrimination within the church. There’s going to be a lot of emotion in those conversations and in that deliberation. To know that we’re being held in prayer by a church that seeks to live in Christ’s way, the daily reminder of that will be essential to the people who are doing that work on our behalf.”