This past week was Jurisdictional Conferences in the United Methodist Church. These were regional conferences that the five regions of the UMC gather together to elect bishops, determine annual conference boundaries, and elect jurisdictional leadership. There was significant cost required as the denomination pays for the lodging and airfare of the delegates (twice as many delegates as General Conference will gather in all the jurisdictions).
One of my friends is in the North Central Jurisdiction (who like the Western Jurisdiction was not electing bishops) and my friend posted “I wish there was something our Jurisdiction actually needed to do (other than taking a likely very short vote on a budget since we have no bishops to elect). [That] would make me feel better about the money we are spending.”
As a conversation partner, I remembered reading Dan Dick’s writeup Post-GC and it was interesting. But then I got to one of the commenters:
Roger Vest: what would it look like if we could hold a “virtual” general conference that focused on local church issues like making disciples, etc. Build upon the relationships that were begun at General Conference and gather people together from all over the world to talk about “the real” issues. We could even hold these “conferences” on a more regular basis centered around a single idea each time if we wanted to. I would love to help make this a reality. Thanks.
And my brain started running. What WOULD that look like? How would we do a Conference mid-year that was online? What resources do we have that could make this a possibility?
- Technology: I’ve had many meetings over Cisco’s WebEx software. It is neat in that if you have a webcam, your video shows up whenever you speak. And you can click “raise hand” so the chair knows you have something to say. And there are text-messages that you can send to the chair. So it can be a helpful resource for online meetings. Or use Skype, Google hangouts, etc.
- Micro-Communities: When the Call To Action was discussed, people gathered across the UMC to listen and to talk about it. Plenaries could be the same way where we gather in regions or towns even and discuss the plenary topic.
- Asynchronous conversations: in the DreamUMC movement we’ve struggled to include Central Conference folks simply because of time zone issues. By having asynchronous bulletin board, video commentary uploads, texted conversations, and other forms of non-linear additions, we can include the worldwide in the discussion.
Of course, there’s the simple problem that Conferencing is not just about legislation. It’s about holy conferencing, about seeing one another face-to-face, about hearing about all parts of the Connection, about meeting online twitterers for the first time in real life. About sharing Holy Communion together as a church.
But in the interim times, when there are particular topics to tackle, why aren’t we using technology to cast a wider net?
There is so much more to Conferencing than legislation. But I’m of the opinion that such experiences could be, in part, replicated online as ‘interim’ Conferences between quadrenniums.
Thoughts? Additions? Cautions?(Photo credit: ‘Virtual Reference‘ by Unclassifiable Librarian on Flickr, Creative Commons share)