Four years ago, we arrived dead tired. Moving from the capital city of Michigan to the capital city of Illinois was a challenge. Packing the house, leaving our two daughters behind, saying goodbye to the good folks in Michigan, embracing our new leadership role in IGRC, moving in the Springfield residence etc. left our energy reserves virtually depleted. Once again, we obeyed the call trumpeted anew in the theme of the 2016 General Conference, “Therefore Go.”
Healing stories in Mark’s gospel are not fictive. They are real, not imagined. A man asks Jesus to heal his daughter. She dies, but our Lord raises her up. Without permission, a woman hemorrhaging for twelve years touches the hem of his garment and receives healing instantly. She is no longer the same.
Now that it’s just about time for me and my beloved Beverly to say goodbye, I want to talk about “the fields are ripe for harvest. It’s a subplot buried within a famous Bible story of the woman at the well.
General Conference 2016 of The United Methodist Church concluded without a holy war. For all the drama predicted from a supposed schism, radical structural change envisioned by a new version of Plan UMC (it failed the Constitutional test again), an unsuccessful attempt at tenure episcopacy for U.S. bishops to a predicted raucous debate and protracted demonstrations on human sexuality, General Conference had its skirmishes but no war.
Those of us who have attended General Conference have surely noticed that on the most contentious of our issues (e.g., where we invest our money, time and witness; where we throw our weight on various social positions; with whom we stand on matters of injustice) – each time there is a divided vote (which, by my calculations, is 100 percent of the time), the majority of the Church says, “here is where we stand,” and a minority says, “But that’s not where I stand!” In other words, “You don’t speak for me!”
After this General Conference, many people are left wondering if the United Methodist Church will continue to exist beyond 2020 when we are next scheduled to meet again in Minneapolis, Minnesota (there is a small chance we could meet sooner…). We are mired in discord over whether homosexual practice is contrary to Christian teaching. And honestly, I have a hard time seeing any Commission called by the Council of Bishops creating a plan that will be satisfying to representatives making up the wide theological diversity represented in our denomination. The idea of schism is scary to many. In fact when the rumors of schism were flying about earlier this week, I was worried too. But over the last 24 hours, whenever I picture the cloudy future for the UMC, I keep going back to the image of our delegation holding hands and intimately connected with our friends from Liberia. And as I go back in my mind’s eye and recall everyone’s faces full of joy, I see HOPE and an amazing FUTURE as we cling to the message contained in the hymn we sang together.
General Conference has officially ended, but the decisions we have made and the conversations which took place are far from finished. Not only is there to be a discussion about human sexuality, with potentially its own General conference session to come, but all of the things we voted for, voted against, or tabled, will affect how we act and relate as Methodists, at least until the next General Conference. Likewise, I have made many friendships, faced a few hardships, & realized just how powerful our connections as United Methodists truly are.
I will offer a more complete assessment of GC after a few days of digesting all that was involved. On the last Sunday in May and on the first Wednesday evening in June I will offer information and talk-back sessions at the church (Peoria First UMC) on what happened, from my person non-infallible chair. And thank you for the prayers I sensed surrounding the proceedings, the planning, and all that was part of this raucous, blessed, contradictory, rip-shorting (and occasionally rip-snoring) event. Jesus is Lord and while an individual church or collection of churches occasionally may not be in good hands, underneath always are the Everlasting Arms...
I’ve only experienced two marriages (in depth) during my lifetime. My parents and my own. With all loving respect to may parents, their marriage reminds me of our General Conference session. There were periods of major disagreement and explosion, and then long periods of what I might call “false peace” – an unspoken agreement to avoid the problems in order to get along enough to function day to day. We call it “sweeping the problems under the rug.” At least a couple things happen when we approach conflict this way. 1) Problems are not resolved – just avoided, and 2) Intimacy is sacrificed on the altar of false unity.
So what do the delegates do at General Conference when sex is off the table? With the grand bargain struck earlier in the week with the Council of Bishops to offer specific leadership on this issue, demonstrators went home, media attention has lagged...and the delegates sent to a General Conference that costs $1,890 per minute began getting other things done.