Virtual, Yes! Anarchy, No!

I am elated at the overwhelming response of bishops, and persons at every level, to the notion of a virtual General Conference.  I argued for the same months ago.  I am concerned, though, that the move toward a virtual meeting will become the occasion for the abrogation of rights through the creation of rules by unauthorized and unethical individuals.  We cannot brazenly disregard the laws of the church…even in a pandemic.

Critics of a virtual General Conference raised some months ago, two primary concerns:

  1. A virtual general conference is illegal because the Discipline requires that it meet in a specific kind of facility (therefore only “in person”).  A convention hall type building is always to be used, and the General Conference is not to be held in large athletic arenas. (Discipline, page 260, Kindle Locations 5917-5919).
  2. Overseas delegates should not be dealt with differently than anyone else.

With that in mind, we should should demand of the process that

  • A physical majority of delegates gather in a convention hall to establish a quorum and to adopt rules for the convention.
  • The Rules must include authorization for virtual participation of ANY delegate regardless to the annual conference they represent.
  • All sessions must be projected through a digital format for both delegates “in the room” and those who participate remotely.  ALL delegates should be watching through a device, so there is no less advantage to remote participants.
  • All voting must be done through the same application, whether the person is on location or remote.
  • All Committees must have digital/remote access for members.

In upcoming posts, I will suggest a few rules we should bend to make a “hybrid” general conference a greater success.  Nonetheless, I am afraid when we “overreach” choosing laws we keep and those we circumvent.  One of the great critiques we face is the way those who preside (clergy and lay) “rule” with bias rather than reason and without regard to the will of the body.

Let’s charge up those tablets and get ready for the 51st Session!

The Curse of Assessments

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  (1 Corinthians 9:7, ESV)

Mandatory assessments are a part of our AME administrative culture.  While many administrators may see this approach as a blessing for consistent, sustainable funding, in actuality, it is a curse?  Assessing authority is misunderstood, overused and undermines the foundation of healthy stewardship and wise program development.  It creates a temptation for those may be blinded by greed or the  opportunity for personal enrichment.  When poor, connectional habits become poor, local congregational practice, we see rancor among the rank and file and a root cause for the exodus.

Many posts could follow on this general topic.  Let me offer in a summary manner:

Assessments would be less oppressive if we:

  • Recognize limitations on when a mandatory “assessment” may be used
  • Make clear who has assessing authority
  • Make the assessing process inclusive of greater participation by those who are assessed
  • Provide thorough explanations/education on the necessity/validity of the assessments
  • Make assessments fairly apportioned

At present, many congregations are over-assessed because their past strength is not their present reality. There is often a lack of empathy by those who collect/receive assessments.  “Give until it hurts,” is a sad, regressive statement that suggests abuse more than charity.  But the greatest argument against the abuse of assessing authority is:  it robs the people of their blessing!

God loves the cheerful giver!  Not the fearful giver trying to avoid Ministerial Efficiency or be elected to an office.  Not the Pharisee trying to impress.  Not the politician climbing the ladder rather than carrying the cross.

Some believe AMEs will not give without being assessed.  This is not true!  We are generous, responsive Christians when we are informed and trust the cause for which we are called upon to contribute.  We need a culture shift! We resist when we are told to “check your brain and your wallet at the door.”

Have We Done Due Diligence? – Have We Done Our Job?

There has been much celebration and a few tears attached to the 2020-2021 Interim Budget.  More joy would flow, and drier eyes prevail, if there were more transparency in the presentation. With less than a week’s notice, and below 30 hours for review, our highest administrative body considered a $10 million budget without the customary peephole for the general AME public.  Even pre-pandemic, we increasingly ponder some of our most important decisions behind closed doors (and I do not mean the Council of Bishops). In the Board session, we heard a few questions.  We received incomplete answers.  It makes one wonder if we have done due diligence.

With a bit less pressure, and a little more time, some critical questions could have improved the outcome.  How many of these queries can the rank and file of the General Board answer, or even the Commission on Statistics and Finance?  The 25% reduction passed!  It’s done.  The masses will enjoy their loaf of bread and a parade, while a few kneel before an untouched vault.  Consider:

  1. How was the reduction amount of 25% reached? What makes 25% correct?  Do we have data from around the church that projects a 25% shortfall?


  1. Were schools, departmental and component heads consulted on the impact of a 25% reduction? Where is a written report on effect? What criteria was applied to the diverse budget to make the reductions equitable and strategic, not mostly the same?


  1. Has anyone done an analysis of our demographic and the capacity to give? Where is “our” research? Are we making just an emotional guess?


  1. How is the current crisis greater than the Great Recession for our membership? Where is the data?


  1. Was there an analysis of the impact of a 25% reduction on the development of Districts 14-20?


  1. How is the cash reserve GOAL calculated? How much is enough?


  1. Why does the Interim Budget not include a single dollar of contribution from the Reserve Funds? How much is in the Reserve/Endowment Reserve Fund (carryover from previous years)?  How much more emergency do we need to access at least “some” of the reserve funds?


  1. The PPP loan the CFO received. How much?  Why was Statistics & Finance seemingly not a part of the application process (at least informed)? Exactly when will the determination be made on the use of the funds?  Will Statistics & Finance participate in the decision?


  1. How much carry over of “Contingency” from 2016-2020? Why were none of these funds used to fill the gap?


  1. What are the cash assets managed by AME, Inc.? What are the net earnings, to date, of the AME Future Fund?


Did the Council of Bishops, General Board or The Commission on Statistics Finance exercise due diligence “before” the vote? Did they do their job?  Did they do it well?

A Compensation Reduction?

A 25% reduction in the compensation of bishops in Districts 1-13 and all active General Officers would be a wrong strategic move. It will signal to the Church that presiding elders, pastors and other servants of the Church should have their compensation diminished regardless to the financial position of the institution.

Not every bishop or general officer is wealthy. Not every district and general office has access to available finances that will fill the gap. Will the great AME Family support a cut before we know the impact of the pandemic? Will we act on data supported facts or emotion driven conjecture? Will we get vital statistics for informed action at the General Board?

Important Business

Important Business

Jeffrey N. Leath, 128th Bishop


No one wants to hold a General Conference where the life and health of people are at risk.  We should be sensitive also to those who accommodate our gathering such as hotel and convention center workers.  Changes to a “quadrennial” meeting entail different responsibilities than a modified mere annual session.  The General Conference controls several critical functions for which there are no emergency provisions.  Holding at least a partial meeting as soon as possible, including virtual participation, is of great importance for life after the pandemic.

One proposal for consideration is the convening of the General Conference to address the immediate concerns of Budget and Personnel with a recess to a later date for the deliberations on legislation and other business of the General Conference.  We need to pass a budget.  We need to retire persons who are scheduled to retire, as we elect persons to fill those positions.  We need to assign the bishops so we can go forward in this time of uncertainty and crisis with the surety of what the leadership looks like for the near future.

It may be hard to imagine, but most of our pieces are not as complex as we are made to believe.  There are three foremost components to begin the organization of our business:  The Rules Committee, The Credentials Committee and The Episcopal Committee.  With proper advance preparations, all these elements can be put in place with either a limited number of people meeting in person, or through virtual interaction.

Each of these three necessary groups is made up of less than 80 persons (The Episcopal Committee is the largest).  We can convene; adopt rules to validate our process; and accomplish these minimum tasks of the General Conference in less that three days with live/virtual sessions of three to five hours per day (perhaps a little longer for the election).

The Program Committee can produce a virtual friendly, limited agenda.  Statistics and Finance can propose a quadrennial budget, the Episcopal Committee can do its work.  We may not have all the answers to the details now, but through formal and informal discussions WE can refine the concept with the end of implementing something that is fair and effective.

As I reviewed the comments on my last post (not to mention offline conversations), I learned from what others said, and I noted ideas that convinced me of the value of broader discussions.  On a forum such as this, we should begin to put on the table some of the nuances which must be considered for new, better ways of doing business.  Whether members are just dabbling for entertainment or engaging for progress, this is a site about the General Conference.

This site is not a prayer line.  This is not the site for a virtual vigil during our critical times.  There are other places for that.  I thank God for those other places!  When the storm is over, the ship of Zion needs to be seaworthy.  Let’s use this time in drydock for assessing damage, making repairs and modifying the vessel which will take us ahead in the future and make us the tip of the spear.

None of this discussion precludes the tasks of the Council of Bishops, General Conference Commission or any other official entity of the Church.

God, forgive us of our sins!  God, reform our ways!  God, save the church!

An Apology

2020 AMEC GenCon Member Discussion Forum

AMEs around the World

A Word of Apology


A few of my colleagues have suggested that I misrepresented their collective view on “virtual participation” in the General Conference or other connectional meetings.  I sincerely apologize for my misunderstanding and any distortion of the discussions among the Bishops and the meeting of the General Conference Commission.  Now that we have a better understanding, I will look forward to conversations in the near future.  I also pray the deliberations will lead to studies and draft implementation plans for virtual presence for our global gatherings as we wrestle with this pandemic.

The Virtual Option

Although the original vision for this blog is the discussion of legislative proposals, the current pandemic as called us to looked a some new church related issues.  To keep the discussion off of a totally public forum, I am privately engage through the blog.

This is the original post on Facebook.

The Rejection of Virtual Gatherings

Jeffrey N. Leath, 128th Bishop

The Council of Bishops and the General Conference Commission have summarily rejected the notion of a connectional virtual, computer-generated gathering.  The Council of Bishops and the General Conference Commission not only went beyond expressed displeasure with the concept, they also refused to research the issue and the efficiency of holding and conducting virtual meetings.  The failure to even study the possibilities is the most disappointing of their actions.  Is there due diligence for these uncharted times when we ignore options?

All of us have concerns about virtual gathering these days (Zoom, Go to Meeting, and private platforms).  Security. Equal access of all members of the deliberative body.  Mixed participation (some onsite while others are virtual).  The list goes on.  Complexity and novelty is no excuse for disregarding feasibility.

Here is the reality.  The world is already different.  If we do not at least think about new ways of doing business, we will be caught behind the curve in expensive, antiquated processes.  The current social order is a warning bell.  Why are we dreaming and waiting for the return of the “good old days?”

We understand the health interests for our members.  There is special concern for the most vulnerable.  We are also sympathetic to the need for fairness for our international institution.  However, there may be more equity in a virtual gathering than we duplicitously deny.

Where is the fairness of representatives from Districts 14-20 having to spend over $2,000 just to get to a point of entry where they will get the same travel allowance as American representatives to meetings like the General Board?  Where is the justice in observers traveling to any connectional meeting having access by auto, bus, or airplane with unrestricted movement, while persons outside the United States are burdened with the costs (and often the disappointment) of securing visas and forced air travel.

We can maintain our integrity with digital presence, that is, online face-to-face meetings, just as easily as in-person.  Better stewardship of fiscal resources and creative strategies may open new horizons of excellent service.  Can’t we look at it and give it a try?

We are wasting precious time and opportunity.  The Connectional Lay Organization is already using a virtual format for their Executive Board.  Why are we still riding the conference call pony while other institutions, as noble as ours, have jetted into the video age?

By implementation on a smaller scale NOW in anticipation of the inevitable, The Council of Bishops, General Board and Commissions should engage in virtual meetings NOW.  We can learn the technology; iron out the wrinkles, secure the systems; and assess the benefits and the liabilities.

During World War II, international travel among civilians was severely limited, and even during war, the General Conference met.  What if there is no international travel in the summer of 2021?  Will we still postpone the General Conference because of disease and travel restrictions, no matter the extent?

Perhaps, The People need to say to the Leaders, Let’s live in the technological present and consider ALL our options for doing God’s work through our Zion!    Do justice, Love mercy, walk humbly!

General Board 1.1.3 The GB & AME, Inc.

Rationale:  Since the inception of the General Board, the work of administering the “connection” has become significantly more complex.  The relationship between AME, Inc. and the General Board is woefully nondescript.  The ambiguity of sections of the Discipline and the opaque operation of AME, Inc. have created areas of conflict which need serious legislative and strategic attention.  This is CRITICAL.

Proposal:  1.  AME, Inc., in its present form, cannot be allowed broad administrative functions beyond the view and control of the Council of Bishops and the General Board.  2. We need clear avenues for a. regular reporting in the interim of the General Conference; b. protocols to communicate strategies and desired outcomes of actions; c.  a clear, concise guide for what constitutes necessary, discrete, independent action by AME, Inc.

1.1.2 General Board continues

4. An Empowered Role for Statistics and Finance  and Commissions

1. Rationale: In a more traditional application of the concept of a “general” board, the primary tasks center on finance. The salient questions are, a. have the funds allocated from the General Budget been used as intended by the General Conference, b. if not, should a further allocation be delayed or denied, c. should an amended use be approved.  In addition, a report from general officers is available for review; it is a platform for discussion (and recommendations) related to policy and implementation; and, the work of the various general officers and components can be coordinated.  In more recent decades, episcopal districts have been required to submit both budgets and audits for review.  Fiscal review (arguably the most vital task of the General Board) lacks clear standards and direction by Discipline and tradition.  Commissions with direct relationships to a general office should take the time to review audits and pass findings to the Commission on Statistics and Finance.  Similarly, episcopal district audits should be reviewed annually to assure that district financial activity is true to the approved budget and queries are appropriately vetted.  Finally, Statistics and Finance should step into the role of performance and accountability for the CFO and the CIO.

2.  Proposals:  1.  That we clarify a process for the review of audits by commissions. 2. That we clarify the expectations and process for the review of episcopal district budgets and audits.  3.  That the role of Statistics and Finance as an oversight body for the CFO be clarified and affirmed.


Another section to follow

The General Board – Introduction (1.1.1)

The General Board has three major purposes:  a. Oversee Programs of the Church, b. Administer and propose the General Budget on behalf of the General Conference, and, c. Provide for the accountability of Church Departments and Agencies.

Even the denomination from which we borrowed much of the “General Board” structure has abandoned that model.  Our purposes may be better served with the “Next” development of administration through the “Next General Board.”

Major Areas for Advanced Development

  1.  Creation of “free standing” Boards for the Department of Retirement Services and Department of Publication.
    1. Rationale: Both of these Departments deal with more money (over $125 million for Retirement Services) than the other departments.  Their operations call for attention from persons with more expertise than can be afforded with a “general” board.  The management of our retirement funds should not rest with a single person having limited knowledge of, and participation in, major administrative decisions.  Similarly, we support a major business, including building a multi million dollar structure in Nashville, without clear protocols beyond a single individual.  While a functioning board is not a magic cure all, it will provide a platform for a next generation of administration and accountability.
    2.  Proposal: Create a Retirement Services Board and a Publications Board
  2.   Rethink Commissions as we currently apply the term in the Discipline.
    1.   Rationale:  The number of commissions has expanded since the inception of the General Board.  There are constituent groups which function with a fully active board (eg., The WMS and The Lay Organization).  Such organizations do not require the same scrutiny as departments which serve without the benefit of a sitting board (eg., Christian Education, Evangelism and Missions).  In addition, there are task oriented commissions which are not able to function at an optimal level as we have restricted official functioning to a small, overburdened group of General Board Members (eg., Ministry and Economic Development)
    2.   Proposal: 1.  Create a Retirement Services Board and a Publications Board.  Move the functions of the Commission on Retirement Services and Commission on Publications to the new, respective boards.  Remove those commissions from the list of standing commissions.  2.  Remove the Lay Organization, Women in Ministry and the Woman’s MIssionary Society from the purview of the relevant commission. Provide for those groups to submit annual audits to Statistics and Finance and establish a path for their leadership to bring policy, coordinating and other matters directly to the General Board from their executive committees as necessary.  3. Create “commissions” outside of the General Board structure to be more inclusive of persons with appropriate skills and interests.  The Commissions on Health, Economic Development, Ministry & Recruitment and Seminaries, Colleges and Universities could function in this manner.  There are persons, not serving on the General Board who would represent the Districts (lay and clergy) on a volunteer basis.   Meeting could take place in various ways, at various times.  It would create bodies of persons who will both know the details and bring broader support to the work of these commissions.  Actionable proposal would come to the General Board on an “as needed” basis.
  3.   Reduce the number of persons on the General 
    1. Rationale:  With a reduction of up to eight (8) commissions, the size of the General Board can be reduced to 3 per district.  This will reduce cost and allow the body more efficient functionality.  Vital participation in the “next” freestanding boards will keep the number of involved persons at the same or greater levels. (No one need be threatened by losing a position.)
    2. Proposal:  Reduce the number of members on the General Board from 5 to 3 with the same existing clergy/lay/youth pattern of selection.