June 17th, 2019

hound of heaven

Sticker witness

People attending Annual Conference often wear stickers on their name badges, or pins, or (nowadays) little stoles -- not to mention, whole t-shirts with slogans -- to indicate their support for various ministries and positions. I saw a lot of rainbow stickers and stoles, and several of the Resistance t-shirts in evidence. There were WCA pins, too, on the other side, though the trads are usually less showy than the progs.

I picked up a WCA pin (that's my tribe), though I never got around to wearing it. The reason is that I feared that it might take away from my primary witness at Conference, which is usually Scouting ministry. I wore a lot of t-shirts and polos with NAUMS emblems or high adventure stuff on them. I wanted everyone to have a favorable view of Scouting ministry, so I didn't want other identifiers that might cause someone to view it unfavorably because they viewed my other commitments with scorn.

Because, to be honest, I look at the people I know wearing those rainbow stickers and such -- many of them people I love -- and I am aware of a negative reaction somewhere deep down inside me. Not enough to not engage them where they are on other issues, not enough to keep me from continuing a long-standing relationship, but nevertheless there is -- a disappointment. And if I don't know them from way back, a wariness.

In fairness, I should trust the rainbow tribe to filter out this particular disagreement in their relations with me, even as I filter out this particular disagreement in my relations with them. From experience, however, I find that many do not. Old friends remain old friends, but the newer folks see everything through the lens of their zealotry, and so I remain wary. I don't engage on that issue, much. I talk about Scouting ministry instead, and tailor my appearance to match my patter.

In the end, we are all who we are, and we stand for what we stand for, and I don't object to people advertising their commitment to what they think important. It's just that, for me, I feel so identified with one particular cause at Annual Conference that I am reluctant to be visually identified with other causes, though I make no other effort to hide where I'm coming from. I'm not ashamed of my commitment to the truth as I understand it, nor reluctant to defend my positions. But I want all clergy and all congregations to consider the value of Scouting ministry, and that means I don't want other things to get in the way; most of all, myself.
junior woodchuck guidebook

Lashing myself to the tiller

So, I volunteered to serve out the remainder of the quadrennium as Conference Scouting Coordinator. (I held that job 1994-2004 in the old South Conference.) As for anything beyond next year, well, we'll see.

The main reason I volunteered is that I distrust the Conference. We have been disinventing ourselves ever since we merged the two conferences in Indiana. Positions get shuffled, there's no money or committee support, the powers that be chase mirages. A vacant chair would, I feared, soon go missing, and getting our dysfunctional conference to take the position seriously next year or down the road without someone already in it and being vocal about what to do with it seemed a losing proposition. So, if I accomplish nothing else, I will keep the seat warm and hope to deliver it and its possibilities intact to a successor.

I might even hold onto it for a while. We'll see. It kind of depends on how quickly The UMC starts to disintegrate, and how ugly that becomes when it happens. Annual Conference 2020 could be a wake or a riot. In any case, I don't think The UMC as we have known it can outlast the next quadrennium.

In that case, my first responsibility is to see that Scouting ministry is taken seriously in whatever successor denomination I wind up in, and that will be helped immensely by my already occupying a position of responsibility. Realizing that in any breakup there will be Scouting units in all the successor denominations, I will gladly help anybody tasked with the same in the other piece(s) of the org I don't wind up in. We Scouters need to model the comity that so far has not prevailed in wider UM circles.

I discussed all this with Anna (Pathfinder President) over lunch at the close of AC. The Pathfinder belongs to its members and can do anything it likes; it is not part of the official structure. We could attempt to resource both/all the judicatories that emerge from the breakup, but I doubt we could sustain that effort. We can barely say we're staying on top of the unwieldy and unresponsive Indiana Annual Conference as it is; attempting to keep up communications with two or more unwieldy and unresponsive orgs is probably more than we can do. And it depends on where the members of the Pathfinder land, individually, too. We have kept things going with a skeleton crew, really, and if they mostly go one direction, then that means we can't do much in the other. If the members scatter, we might even have to dissolve the corporation. In any case, I told her my feeling is that for at least a while -- at least while we're still disbursing money that was donated for specific purposes (like the Richert Fund) by people active in the current AC -- we ought to be equally open to making grants to Scouts and projects in all the successor judicatories.

I can't see further down the road than that right now. In my previous run at this office, I was quite adroit at using the machinery of the Conference to magnify the office's voice, but as chaotic and misdriven as the Conference is these days, I don't know if there are any levers I can find to pull to advance the cause much. I will try.