General Conference business manager, the Rev. Alan Morrison, says his event-management training came from Boy Scouts. Overseeing the arrangements and organization of General Conference seems a monumental task, but Morrison says it’s not that different from what he did when he planned a patrol camping trip at age 11.
“Whether it is an event for eight or thousands, the basics are the same,” he explained. “You have to understand how to plan for how you are going to feed people, how to get the equipment you need, where you’re going to stay, and so on.”
After that first patrol camping trip, Morrison, like his father and his son, attained the rank of Eagle Scout. He still is involved in camping and, over the years, has organized progressively larger scouting events, such as jamborees.
Morrison’s undergraduate and graduate education also provided some of the knowledge he uses to pull together an event as large as General Conference. He holds an associate degree in digital electronics, a bachelor’s degree in business management, a master of divinity degree and a master’s in biblical literature.
“I have a Renaissance education, and, in this job, that is exactly what’s needed,” he said. “I not an expert, but I have an understanding of a lot of things. Every piece of my formal education and every employment experience has helped in deploying all the resources needed for the General Conference.”
Significant financial resources go into staging the quadrennial assembly. Morrison estimates the cost of the 2012 General Conference at $8.5 million, most from apportioned funds. To ease the burden, Morrison recruited sponsors beyond in-kind donors for the first time this year.
“I think it was very successful for a first-time effort,” he said, noting that about $300,000 was raised. “It’s a beginning to provide an income stream, so (the cost) doesn’t all have to be paid from apportionment dollars.”
First attended as seminarian in 1988
Morrison was the editor of the student newspaper at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio when he attended his first General Conference in St. Louis in 1988. Because of that experience, Morrison this year introduced a more formal program for seminary students coming to General Conference.
“I scheduled key leaders of the General Conference so the students could get a feeling for the operations and caucus leaders on all sides of key issues to give them a breadth of the diversity within the church,” he said. About 70 students from several seminaries are participating.
During his 15 years as a pastor to small-membership churches in the Western Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference, Morrison used his organizational skills to chair the financial administration team and was recruited to served as operations director for the host committee for the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh. At the time, he said, he was ready “to help pick up the pieces of anything that falls apart, no matter whose responsibility it is. This is to be a team effort, and that’s what’s needed to make this happen.”
That philosophy hasn’t changed for Morrison. In the midst of his second General Conference as business manager, he said he really has no idea how large the team is, but it is in the thousands, including staff of the General Conference and partner United Methodist Church agencies, 140 translators, 28 recorders, the secretarial team and up to 1,400 volunteers, including those recruited by the host committee.
His favorite thing, Morrison said, is watching it all come together, “to look out across the room and hear the people singing in all different languages.”
Jackie Campbell directs communications for the Western Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference.