By Andy Adams
As I wait in the Dallas Fort-Worth airport for my flight back home, I can’t help but reflect on the entirety of this year’s General Conference. I have far too many thoughts than I will share in this final #UMCGC post, but I at least wanted to share the hope I left with.
Most of you know that I am a part of the Illinois Great Rivers annual conference. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with and getting to know some of the great pastors and laypersons of our conference. Right after the close of conference on Friday night, most of us gathered together for dinner with the delegation from the Liberia annual conference. Our two conferences have been in partnership for almost a decade. In fact the church I pastor, Quest UMC, has been intimately involved in Liberia – a handful of our members have visited, we’ve entertained and hosted a few Liberians who have traveled to the US, we’ve built a church building and a primary/secondary school, dug more than two dozen wells and sponsored dozens of kids to go to school at all levels. We are intimately connected with the work God is doing through the UMC in Liberia. It has helped our congregation experience the beauty of being a global church.
During our dinner together I met several Liberians and talked about their ministries. I was encouraged by the development of a Masters of Divinity degree through the United Methodist University and now Seminary in Gbarnga. The need for high quality theological education in West and Central Africa is urgent as the church continues to grow rapidly and more and more pastors need to be trained. (As a side note, on the final day of General Conference, we voted to increase our commitment over the next 4 years in Theological Education outside the US from 4.9 million to 10 million dollars!) I even learned that my alma mater, Asbury Theological Seminary, is building a relationship with the school in Gbarnga. That made my heart smile too.
Our dinner was a beautiful reflection of the church that I want my kids to grow up in. A global church committed to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with all peoples far from God. At the end of dinner we joined hands in a large circle and my friend, Rev. Jerry Kulah from Liberia, led us in singing “To God Be the Glory.” Every part of me wanted to weep with joy, but instead I just sang these powerful lyrics with a huge smile on my face as I looked around the circle and saw a glimpse, not only of heaven, but of the future United Methodist Church. For those of you who don’t know the song, here are the lyrics:
1. To God be the glory, great things he hath done!
So loved he the world that he gave us his Son,
who yielded his life an atonement for sin,
and opened the lifegate that all may go in.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
let the earth hear his voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father thru Jesus the Son,
and give him the glory, great things he hath done!
2. O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,
to every believer the promise of God;
the vilest offender who truly believes,
that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.
3. Great things he hath taught us, great things he hath done,
and great our rejoicing thru Jesus the Son;
but purer, and higher, and greater will be
our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see.
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.