While fellow graduates of Perkins School of Theology robed up for their commencement in Dallas on May 14, Ethan Gregory sat in the Conferences Committee at General Conference 2016, in Portland, Oregon.
He is a reserve delegate from the Central Texas Conference, and decided General Conference, rather than commencement, was where he needed to be.
It was not that tough a call.
“I’ve grown up passionate about The United Methodist Church,” he said.
Carlene Fogle-Miller, a delegate from the Florida Conference, made the same decision. She was in a windowless conference room, serving as secretary of the Faith and Order Committee, rather than attending her May 14 graduation from the University of Mississippi Law School.
She had not felt too emotional until Saturday morning.
“I got texts from my classmates saying, `We’re lining up to process and really miss you and wish you were,’” Fogle-Miller said. “That’s when it sank in.”
Fellow members of the Faith and Order Committee lifted her spirits by humming the tune to “Pomp and Circumstance,” and by giving her a standing ovation.
Fogle-Miller took to social media to share video of the committee honoring her, and added this: “Many thanks to FO Committee for ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ and ovation for me in honor of my commencement today. You moved me to (more) tears.”
The Rev. Bill Arnold, committee chair, said he had hoped to arrange a cake, but could not swing it, given the crush of committee work and plenary sessions.
“It’s amazing, the sacrifice that she made,” he said.
Fogle-Miller, 25, plans a career in legal advocacy for women, with a focus on Title 9. She wore an Ole Miss sweatshirt to the committee meeting Saturday, and worked in some purple in her outfit, since that is the color of the stripes for a juris doctor graduate.
She said she considered trying to fly back to Oxford, Mississippi, for commencement, but is graduating with enough student debt to make that unrealistic.
Prayer helped confirm her decision that General Conference was where she needed to be, she added.
Gregory will turn 24 on Friday, the last day of General Conference.
The degree he earned, but did not pick up personally, is his Master of Divinity, and he plans to be an ordained elder. He was an intern this past year at Arborlawn United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, Texas.
He served as a delegate at the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Florida. His younger brother, Kevin Gregory – a student at Southwestern University in Texas – also is a reserve delegate in Portland.
Ethan and Kevin are rooming together at General Conference 2016.
For Ethan, one specific reason to be here and not at graduation is his investment in legislation to create a U.S. central conference. His delegation has worked with the North Texas Conference on the proposal.
“I was at the table when that was first sort of conceptualized,” he said. “I want to be here to see that through because I think it’s important.”
The Rev. William Lawrence is dean of Perkins School of Theology, part of Southern Methodist University. He also chairs the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church, which is on hand for General Conference. But he flew back from Portland to Dallas to be part of commencement.
Lawrence, who is retiring from Perkins, was scheduled to return to Portland and bring back Gregory’s diploma for presentation during General Conference.
Fogle-Miller said she is aware of other delegates who either missed commencement or made a quick, inconvenient trip back to be there.
“That’s the unfortunate reality of being a young delegate,” she said. “You have to compete with your school’s schedule.”
Ricky Harrison, a young delegate from the North Texas Conference, saluted both Fogle-Miller and Gregory for choosing General Conference over commencement.
“I think it says a lot about their commitment and love for the church,” he said.
Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org