Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Should all annual conferences submit news reports about their meetings?

We are now in a new year and soon a new season of annual conferences.  For any of you interested in seeing news reports from last year's annual conferences, you can find many of them posted online on this page of umc.org.  If you peruse the list of annual conference news stories, you'll notice something: almost all of them are from the United States.  The Central and Southern Europe Episcopal Area also has almost all of their reports on the website, but there are no reports from any other central conference, including those in Africa, the Philippines, and the rest of Europe.  Thus, it seems that the information available on annual conference proceedings is geographically uneven.  This raises a question then: Should all annual conferences submit news reports about their meetings to be posted on the umc.org website?

First, a note on what we're talking about here.  The reports available on umc.org are news stories written, generally by conference staff or clergy, about what went on during the annual conference meetings.  They're not the official listings of appointments, resolutions, ordinations, and the like that are required by discipline.  To my knowledge, all annual conferences submit those.

The main argument for submitting such reports is spreading the knowledge and information that are essential for promoting connectionalism between the various branches of the UMC.  We may legitimately wonder how many people would read the annual report for the Malawi Provisional Annual Conference, for instance, outside of Malawi, but the number is probably much greater than you would think.  I believe there is such an appetite for stories about what's going on around the church globally among partner churches and annual conferences, among nearby annual conferences, and among United Methodists seeking to be generally educated about their church.  Moreover, the number of people outside of Malawi who can learn about the Malawi Provisional Annual Conference's proceedings without such a news story is few to none.

There are, however, some hurdles to collecting and posting such news stories.  Technology may be a hurdle is some places, though not in all areas of the world that aren't submitting reports.  More of a hurdle would be the staff and time to write and submit such reports.  In small annual conferences, annual conferences without much administrative structure, or annual conferences in which educated clergy capable of writing articles are already stretched thin, such a task may seem not worth the resources.  Language could be an issue, too, though I don't see why umc.org couldn't post news stories about annual conferences in French, Portuguese, Spanish, or other languages, if those are the prime languages for communication in the respective annual conferences.  Organizational culture may play a role as well, with some annual conferences focused primarily inward without a sense that their story matters to the wider church.

Despite these obstacles, though, I think the goal of news reports from all annual conferences is a good one to work towards.  We cannot function as a global church if we know a great deal about what's going on in the US and very little about what's going on anywhere else in the world.  UM Communications, UMNS, GBGM, GBHEM, this blog, and others are working to change that, but having news reports from each annual conference would be an important step toward greater awareness, understanding, and sense of connection between conferences around the world.

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