By Woody Woodrick
FORT WORTH, Texas – Much like non-starters on an athletic team, reserve delegates to General Conference must be as well prepared as the seated delegates.
Several reserves for the Mississippi Conference delegation attended the 2008 General Conference, held April 23-May 2 at the Fort Worth Convention Center, and had the opportunity to take seats on the plenary floor.
"You don't want to get caught not knowing what's going on," said the Rev. Andy Ray, pastor at Tupelo First United Methodist Church and a reserve clergy delegate. "Just about all of the reserves who were here were in the gallery the whole time."
The Rev. Warren Black of Oxford-University UMC served as a delegate in 2004 and was a reserve this year. He said he attempted to prepare as if he were seated, but noted that the material is voluminous. Instead of being able to focus on petitions assigned to one's legislative committee, Black said reserves have to have some knowledge across the board. "You have to be a generalist rather than a specialist," he said.
Black found help from a retired clergy member in his church who read many of the petitions and marked important sections.
Another clergy reserve, the Rev. Embra Jackson, did take part in some committee meetings prior to the start of plenary sessions. He said it was difficult to step in and develop a relationship with committee members and know the nuances of debate, then have to leave before an issue was settled.
However, Jackson said sitting in the gallery gave him a greater sense of the big picture. "You get a chance to watch the deliberations as a whole like a fan watching a game on TV," he said.
Phoebe Hathorn and Kiah Hitt had the opportunity to give some relief to lay delegates. Black said that's important for the delegates. "Delegates need a break for an evening or afternoon," he said.