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Transcript: Pastor’s Other Calling: General Conference Petitions


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The Rev. Gary Graves: "When I was growing up, on Saturday mornings we had a little cartoon that came on that I really loved. It was the little bill sitting on the steps of the Capital, and the process it went through in 'School House Rock' to get to become a law. That is very much the way our process works."

The Reverend Gary Graves spends months compiling hundreds of petitions sent to the United Methodist General Conference.

The Rev Gary Graves: “There are two volumes of books that are produced. And they’re about the size of a metropolitan phone book.”

Delegates’ votes shape the future of the denomination. As the petition secretary for the Commission on General Conference, Graves vets every piece of legislation.

The Rev Gary Graves: “They may come in English. They may come in in French, Portuguese, Swahili.”

Graves is a full-time pastor in Kentucky. The added volunteer work for General Conference is done in a small room in the church parsonage.

The Rev Gary Graves: “This time you get to be in the guest room of the Paris United Methodist Church parsonage. The dog also lives in here. But right here at these two work stations is where the petitions come in and get sent back out to the Publishing House.”

Portland in 2016 will be Graves’ seventh General Conference. In 24 years, the petition and recording process has changed from paper to e-filing.

(Scene from 2012 General Conference) Bishop Carcano: "We will vote on the tablets."

It was through tech growing pains at General Conference that Graves found a new way to be of service to the church he loves. Graves signed on as part of the host committee when General Conference met in his home state of Kentucky in 1992. Graves helped organize student volunteers.

The Rev Gary Graves: “That was the year that they went from Selectric typewriters into computers. There, a lot of the people were coming to work who were expecting typewriters. And computers were very new. And the seminary students really kinda became onsite tech people.”

During General Conference, Graves shepherds the paperwork through the legislative committee process.

The Rev Gary Graves: “There’s a lot of work that happens late at night. There’s a lot of work that happens while everybody else is on break. It’s a lot of chocolate, Coca Cola and coffee. There have been stretches where we may go two days and not get back to the hotel room. But it’s very satisfying work when you are able to see that you’re enabling something to happen that the delegates couldn’t do if there was nobody behind the scenes making the activity happen.”

The petition secretary serves at the invitation of the Secretary of the General Conference. Graves says he has no plans to retire from his volunteer post anytime soon.

(The Rev Gary Graves speaks at meeting) “I got here and looked at my nametag and it said, ‘Texas when I die.’ That’s a bit of a bummer.”

Graves is glad his time and talents can be of service to his church.

The Rev Gary Graves: “I feel that I’ve been in the right place at the right time in a lot of situations. And I don’t believe that those are all coincidence. We’re not voting delegates. We operate behind the scenes. And I think that is a part of our calling.”