The boredom, a word somewhat unfair in this setting, arose from completing the nitty gritty of preparation; the election of team leaders and sub-team leaders, the introductions shared among the various delegates on the sundry teams. I sit with Higher Education and Ministry and will look at the largest number of petitions fielded b y any group, related to clergy and education issues. At my table of 11 were folks from Congo who only spoke French (merci beaucoup, madam translator), one who spoke only Swahili, one from Atlanta, two from Washington DC, and seated next to me a reasonably effective church planter from Leawood, Kansas. We traded stories and hopes for the global church and, thus prepared, await tomorrow.
Remember that this conference is not about whatever external news media says. It is about Jesus. I sense lots of delegates from all sorts of places share that conviction, that passion, that faith.
I smelled heaven this afternoon. No, I didn’t walk by a Chicago style pizza place in Portland (if anyone knows of some good deep dish in Trailblazer country, please let me know). I smelled heaven during our opening worship service and it brought me to tears.
When it comes down to it, people will believe that homosexual practice is either an acceptable or unacceptable practice for Christians (and to be clear, I believe you can love Jesus, love Scripture and love the mission of the church and yet come to different conclusions, interpreting in different ways). I don’t think any act of General Conference will change how either “side” interprets the Bible or chooses to believe. However, we can all remember the Barrys out there and in the midst of our differences, we can treat each other with love (and if not love, then at least civility and respect). Please continue praying with me for our General Conference – that the way we go about disagreeing will actually be a testimony of God’s grace and love and not another obstacle to people finding it.
When folks who are jogging in upscale Nike shoes and folks who are sleeping nights in the park find a reason to care that United Methodists are gathering in Jesus' name and see the connection of the Jesus we proclaim with the lives they live (or endure), well, that is the main thing! Pray with me and for me that whatever else may happen, the main thing remain the main thing.
We come together with different languages and different ideas, of different ages and from different places, to do God’s mission. We come together as Methodists and while we may not all be of one mind, let us as one of the speakers today reminded us, be of one heart. Let us be in dialogue with one another, to come to place where we can communicate safely, and to conference with one another honestly and earnestly, no matter where we are from, who we are, or where we are headed after this.
As I walked through the building, you could feel the sense of anticipation. God is clearly stirring in his church. For a moment, I peaked in the massive auditorium while the worship band rehearsed for tomorrow’s opening worship service. I know from previous General Conferences that this is a must-see experience.
I have spent the last two years writing legislation, taking part in conference calls, and strategizing with both friends and detractors. Tonight, I want to be quiet in God’s presence. I want to be humble. I want to become like a little child. I want to be ready to engage with my brothers and sister and find holy ground amidst what might otherwise become a gaudy political convention.
This is God’s place. Not Portland or the O’Hare airport, but General Conference. It may not always feel like a place where the Holy Spirit can freely flow, especially amidst difficult decisions, harsh critics on either side of the aisle, but God works in the loud airports and conference centers as well as those quiet centering places like a double bed at the Downtown Marriott Waterfront. It is for God that I am here. The Spirit may not seem present, but my heart and mind is open to God’s call in my life and on all of our conversations at General Conference.
This year our Faith and Order Committee will discuss important legislation that seeks to add the Nicene Creed to our Doctrinal Standards, possibly change our mission statement, sharpen language in our “Theological Task” and clarify the expectations for those seeking ordination (yes, there are several controversial issues regarding sexuality and ordination). For a doctrine nerd like me, it will make for an exciting few days in legislative committee during week 1 of General Conference.