By Kara Witherow, Editor
Three South Georgia Conference volunteers stepped up to serve during the recent 2012 General Conference – literally. Sometimes on their feet for eight-hour stretches, Rev. Meg Procopio, Rev. Michael Finn and Marianne Wright participated and observed the inner workings of General Conference in ways that few are able to do.
Rev. Procopio, Isle of Hope United Methodist Church’s minister of Christian education, accepted the invitation to monitor as a way to give back and serve the Church, especially the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW).
“Being a part of this commission for the last eight years has been life altering and transformational for me,” said Rev. Procopio, who serves as a GCSRW board member. “My eyes have been opened to the struggles of men and women in the United States and around the world. To be a part of this sacred work of inclusion has been at times overwhelming, but always inspiring. We are a world church and we have much work to do in order that all voices are heard.”
As a monitor, that’s exactly what Rev. Procopio did. Part of a team made up of volunteers from GCSRW, the General Commission on Religion and Race, and students from Garrett Theological Seminary, she observed daily legislative proceedings to help the committees ensure that all delegates had equal access and that the opinions and ideas of all participants were heard and honored. They also monitored the elections of officers and the makeup of each sub-committee in regards to gender, ethnicity, whether lay or clergy, and conference relationship.
“To bring people of diverse experiences, cultures, languages, ages, and understandings together to do God’s work is messy!” Rev. Procopio said. “The ministry of monitoring has changed me. I pray it continues to give me courage to ‘be the change I wish to see in the world.’”
Marianne Wright’s involvement with the Good News Movement led her to volunteer with the Renewal and Reform Coalition during General Conference. As a member of Good News’ board of directors, the Asbury Seminary student worked with the coalition to monitor and track legislation and to strategize ways to help evangelical delegates.
Despite the early mornings and late nights – she was up by 5 a.m. each day and typically didn’t return to her hotel room until about 11 p.m. – Wright says it was an invaluable experience.
“It was a great way for me to experience General Conference for the first time,” she said. “They were long days but they were really good.”
In Tampa for the entire two-week session, Wright monitored the Conferences legislative committee during the first week. During the second week’s plenary sessions, she observed each day, helped track and monitor legislation, and reported on the days’ actions.
She was also one of the smiling faces that greeted delegates each morning as she handed them “Focus,” the coalition’s daily newsletter.
As a South Georgia Jurisdictional Conference delegate, she was also able to sit in with the South Georgia Conference’s General Conference delegation a few times.
“It was a huge experience,” Wright said. She’s still processing her thoughts and finds it hard to accurately capture her experience in words.
“It was a really good experience overall,” she said. “It was a learning experience in how the denomination works at the larger level and in seeing people come together and work for the good of spreading the gospel. I believe in what the Church is trying to do. I believe that there is still a lot of work left to be done and there have to be people willing and confident enough to walk in that direction.”
Rev. Michael Finn was surprised when he received the email confirming that he had been selected to be a General Conference marshal. When filling out the application he thought it would be a neat way to serve the Church, but didn’t really expect to be accepted.
Once he was in Tampa, though, the reality of his two-week commitment sunk in. Often serving long 10-hour days, as a marshal, Rev. Finn, pastor of Hand Memorial United Methodist Church in Pelham, helped make sure the bar of the conference remained secure and that only elected delegates were inside.
Not knowing exactly what to expect going into his first General Conference session, Rev. Finn left Tampa encouraged about The United Methodist Church.
“I left really encouraged about our Church as a whole,” he said. “That’s not to say that everything that I observed while I was in Tampa was encouraging, but as far as the Church as a whole, I left encouraged because I saw it operate on a larger scale than I’m used to seeing, and I got to experience the real vitality of the Church in the whole world. It was a blessing to see how really big our Church is and how strong it is outside of the United States and outside of the very small portion I see on a regular basis here in South Georgia. To be able to see the true worldwide representation that our Church has was the best part of the whole experience for me.”
If a future General Conference session is held nearby, Rev. Finn says he’d attend again and he would recommend that others attend or volunteer, too.
“I would encourage anyone to wear comfortable shoes, though!” he says. “’It’s a lot of walking and a lot of standing! And be prepared to see the church through a wider-angle lens than what you’re used to seeing.”