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General Conference from the Back Side

by Youngsook C Kang
April 28, 2012

Did you know that a back-illuminated sensor is one of the new features of the recently introduced iPhone 4G/4S? A back-illuminated sensor is a type of digital image sensor to increase the amount of light and thereby improve low-light performance. (I sound technically savvy, but, in fact I am not.) This is why the back cover of iPhone 4 can be illuminated!

As I am attending the 2012 General Conference as a non-delegate, it strikes me that non-delegates add light to the General Conference similar to a back-illuminated sensor. Who are the non-delegates? General agency staff and volunteers, annual conference staff, press, and all the other volunteers including ushers and greeters. And of course bishops. And all observers around the world! Think about the richness of perspectives that all these different people bring.

Since 1996, I have been to four General Conferences as a delegate. I’ve become so used to sitting on the floor as a delegate – sitting inside the bar, so to speak – that I had thought the delegates’ perspective was all that mattered! Yes, in many good senses, but not really!

The delegates’ perspective is only one vantage point. Now that I get to “float” around as an agency volunteer (General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns), a press person for the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference and a blogger for United Methodist Communications (www.GC2012Conversations.com), I see things differently.

Looking at the General Conference from OUTSIDE the bar – from the benches, hallways, display booths and press room – my view has expanded. If delegates see through a “front-illuminated” sensor, non-delegates see through a “back-illuminated” sensor. Of course, the delegates’ perspective is one of the most important. They are the ones who have the voting power, after all.

When I ran into someone the other day in front of the plenary hall, she asked me, “Why are you here?” Meaning I have no reason to be here as a non-delegate. Wouldn’t it be helpful to add more light to see the back side of things? All the different angles and viewpoints add the ability to collect more light on the entire picture of what the General Conference is about. This is how we get a 360-degree view.

I am enjoying tremendously “looking at the General Conference from the back side!” So, I asked my fellow non-delegates, “What is it like attending the General Conference as a non-delegate?” A theme that runs through most everybody’s response is, “We are here to help. And we enjoy freedom and flexibility and a different view.” It is an expansive view. It is a global view.

So, what is it that non-delegates are contributing? An agency staff person said, “I am here to provide information so that the delegates make an informed decision.” A press person said, “Communication is my responsibility. I send out communications as things are happening.” A General Conference staff member mentioned, “I am working from behind the scenes. I track all the petitions.”

Those who are from various racial/ethnic caucuses monitor how everyone’s voice is being heard. Social justice-related groups voice their concerns so that the church may take actions for justice and peace. And let’s not forget the hosting team. When I lost my back-cushion yesterday, a pastor from the Florida Annual Conference took time to take me to a nearby Walgreens.

The list can go on. What are you here for at the 2012 General Conference in Tampa? What is your angle? Are you coming from the front side? Or are you coming from the back side? Every voice counts. Everyone’s work is important. After all, “all things work together for good.”