Resolution Committees Bring Understanding, Collaboration

Annual Conference members participate in a Resolution Committee meeting. Committees met to review resolutions and discuss challenges or questions with the authors.

A new approach at Annual Conference offered greater dialogue and produced well-received resolutions

At the 2023 North Texas Annual Conference, clergy and lay members embraced a new approach to resolutions. Rather than only addressing resolutions during the all-conference business sessions, this year’s agenda included hour-long Resolution Committee meetings on Monday afternoon, setting aside time for thoughtful discussions of resolutions before they came to the floor.

The move came in response to feedback from past years, including formal feedback in Annual Conference surveys and informal reactions shared with Annual Conference Planning Team members. Regardless of the channel, resolutions often topped the list in terms of areas to improve at Annual Conference.

“My experience of the resolutions section of Annual Conference has always been one of dread,” laughed Rev. Nick McRae, who led in coordinating the Resolution Committee process. “It’s contentious and tedious and we spend a lot of time talking past one another and misunderstanding one another. When I heard about the possibility of our conference trying something new that could foster conversation and connection, I was glad to be a part of it.”

In each Resolution Committee room, a convener and a parliamentarian were joined by 35 volunteer members of the Annual Conference, representing all four districts, to meet with the authors of two resolutions and discuss any questions, concerns or challenges. In this setting, as well as on the floor of the Annual Conference, members were reminded that resolutions are aspirational in nature and that the authority to change the Book of Discipline sits with the General Conference.

“I appreciated the opportunity to sit in a small group, without a microphone, everyone face-to-face in a circle,” said Rev. Edgar Bazan, a resolution author. “That format – everyone seeing each other – allows for engaging conversation and gave us a chance to listen to each other, to better understand the questions and concerns people had.”

“The sense of understanding that these Resolution Committees provided was a huge value,” said McRae. “Participants came in prepared and were able to better understand the author’s goals and intentions, and authors were able to gain new understanding of people’s concerns and varied contexts. A lot of times as authors, we think we’ve been clear in what we’ve written. But until real people encounter and react to your words, you can’t be sure.”

The small group setting also created a space for authors and committee members to talk through disagreements in a respectful and constructive way.

“Over the past several years we’ve struggled to have tough conversations effectively and cultivate a space where all perspectives felt safe and welcome,” said Jessica Vittorio, a lay member to Annual Conference who participated in this year’s Resolution Committees. “Resolution Committees helped us to have these tough, but important conversations, and finally begin talking to each other instead of around each other.”

Collaboration in Action

“This year there was a resolution that I disagreed with and found to be potentially harmful,” said Rev. Ashley Anne Sipe, who served on a Resolution Committee. “I was glad for the opportunity to be able to speak directly with the author and say ‘here’s what I’m feeling.’ And to be able to do that in a room of 40 people, looking each other in the eye, instead of at the microphone with my back to the annual conference, made such a difference and allowed for a conversation that was really holy and just.”

“The feedback I received as the author of a resolution was very instructive,” said McRae. “In the Resolution Committee, I think one other person voted in support of the resolution. Leaving that day, I felt I had three options. I could withdraw the resolution and deem the whole thing hopeless. I could stick to my guns and press forward as planned. Or I could internalize the feedback I’d received, understand the new perspectives I’d heard and find a way to change my resolution to meet them.”

Moved by the conversations in the Resolution Committee, McRae elected that evening to remove two sections of his resolution. He contacted Sipe to share his decision and confirm whether the updated language would address her concerns. While she still wasn’t able to support the resolution, the two were able to connect one-to-one on the reasons for their stances.   

“The Resolution Committee discussions and my conversation with Ashley Anne were pivotal,” said McRae. “They impacted how I spoke about the resolution in the room. It became important to me to introduce the resolution in a way that would assuage those same worries and make my intention clear.”

On Tuesday afternoon, when Sipe stepped to the microphone to speak against McRae’s resolution, he was not surprised or caught off guard. Rather, he had full awareness of her own personal back story and her rationale for opposing the measure.

“I hadn’t intended to speak at the microphone, but I felt the need to do so in the moment,” said Sipe. “I’m sure that my statements from the floor would have been heard in a very different way if they were coming the first time from the microphone.”

Although his resolution was not adopted, McRae considers the committee process to have been successful in shaping stronger language. “In the Resolution Committee, only one in 40 people voted in support,” he said. “When I brought the updated resolution to the floor, it received more than 2.5% of the votes, so I consider that a success.”

Results and Response

Response to the new model has been positive overall, with Annual Conference members pointing to the tone and productivity of the legislation and resolution sessions as evidence of the process working.

In two and a half hours, the Annual Conference considered 12 resolutions, with each receiving full attention and ample opportunity for discussion and amendments from the floor.

“It is hard to overstate how much benefit the changes incorporated this year brought to our overall legislative work,” said Vittorio. “This format helped us to embrace the concept of holy conferencing in a new way, and I think we saw the true benefit of that in our consideration of the legislative items on the floor.”

“I went in very curious about how this would work, even if it would work,” said Sipe. “And now that I’ve seen it in action, I’m wondering why we haven’t been doing this the whole time.”

Published: Wednesday, June 14, 2023