Many things have changed at General Conference — electronic voting, high-tech projection and sound, texting/tweeting/instant messaging, etc., but the greatest mixed blessing I have encountered this GC is the proliferation of wheeled luggage that accompanies delegates wherever they go. You have probably seen these long-handled brief-case/computer bags/backpacks with wheels that make lugging a ton of paper and equipment a breeze — for the person doing the lugging. What these bags create for everyone else is a hazard and an obstacle. I’ve watched over a dozen people tripped — one actually knocked down — by trailing bags extending an individual’s personal space a good three feet to the rear. This would be problem enough, but wheelie bags tend to travel in packs. Wheelie baggers fly in formation — a straight phalanx of three to four can block off an entire sidewalk. The flying V is a rumbling juggernaut dislodging all in its path. The picket fence is an irregular spacing that creates a moving gauntlet through which defenseless non-baggers try to scamper and dodge.
Why the abundance of wheeled baggers? Because we are asked to lug approximately 20-30 pounds of paper, equipment, pens, post-its, notebooks, books, and other paraphernalia miles and miles from meeting room to meeting room, building to building, and table to table. Over the course of 12 days one of two things happen: either a delegate develops arms like Popeye or he/she ends up in traction. So, wheelie bags fall into the category of an understandable necessary evil, even though they create hazards and perils. As with many things at General Conference, they are not an optimal solution and they benefit some better than others, but they are better than nothing…
The other truly amazing shift at this General Conference is the growing dependence on electronics and technology. One of the freebies in our General Conference goodie bags is a stylus appropriate for iPads and smart phones — which is an appropriate gift to over 80% of the delegates — including our global brothers and sisters. Our African, Asian and European delegates are every bit as wired as the rest of us — constantly connected to a phone, tablet, bluetooth headset, or laptop. Incredible. I have never seen such a wired meeting before in my life. It makes me wonder why we are all sitting in the same room, when we could just as easily be connected electronically for all this administrative work. While we are physically present in the room, most of the delegates are connected to someone else somewhere else in the world. In plenary, at least a third of the delegates are tweeting/texting/instant messaging at any one time. We might as well change the logos from GC to 4GC.
As a closing comment, I want to say that I am deeply honored and impressed by the men and women who are giving their time, gifts, talents and expertise to serve The United Methodist Church. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who are here, they are doing a commendable job. United Methodists across the connection should be proud of their delegates. We are working so hard to do good work to make our church an honor and a glory to God — and if it takes wheelie bags to make this happen, then so be it.