What I Need for General Conference
By Chris Ritter
A group of about 30 members of my church just came by to send me forth to Portland. As I felt the heavy, holy weight of their hands on my head and shoulders, I remembered something I read recently in the minutes of the first Methodist conference for which we have detailed minutes. John and Charles Wesley met with two other clergy and four lay preachers on June 25, 1744, at the Foundry in London for five days of Christian conferencing. When the group assembled, the following was recorded as the gathering’s commission:
It is desired:
That all things may be considered as in the immediate presence of God;
That we meet with a single eye, and as little children which have everything to learn;
That every point be examined from the foundation;
That every person may speak freely whatever is in his heart; and
That every question proposed may be fully debated, and bolted to the bran.
This sums up what I need for General Conference:
A Holy Stillness
Everything was to be considered as if sitting in the very presence of God. Occasionally in a church meeting, someone will pray and invite Jesus to “take an empty seat” among us. How would we meet together if we believed that God was truly with us? It is easy for me to slip into practical atheism and forget I am in the presence of the holy. When we conference together we are before the Throne.
A Single Eye
This early conference was to be with a “single eye”, quoting Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. Wesley’s sermon “On a Single Eye” opened with this quote by Jeremy Taylor, “Simplicity and purity, are the two wings that lift the soul up to heaven.” The model for simplicity and purity is a little child. Methodists were to come to conference with the heart of a child, not the heart of a politician. They were to come as those who have everything to learn, not with an agenda to promote.
A Willing Mind
Every matter was to be studied and discussed from its very foundation. Every person was to speak freely what was on their heart. Issues were to be “bolted to the bran.” This means thoroughly sifted, so as to separate the husks from the flour. The minutes of the conference are chock full of scriptural references where the preachers dug deep into the Word of God in order to discuss the issues at hand. The work was doctrinal in nature and in no way superficial. They talked about how they got there, the weaknesses and strengths of the movement, and where they would go from there.
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.
Lord, grant me a child’s heart so that I might know a holy stillness, a single eye, and a willing mind.
My friend and fellow delegate Roger Ross wrote this prayer and asked folks here in Illinois to pray it every day at 10am Central Time:
Everlasting God, as you did at Pentecost, pour out your Holy Spirit on our General Conference in Portland. Guide every decision so your will can be done on earth as it is in heaven. For the sake of Jesus Christ and his church. Amen.
It would be OK with me if this prayer escaped from Illinois and went all over the world.
(Rev. Chris Ritter is pastor of Geneseo First UMC in the Spoon River District. He blogs regularly at: peopleneedjesus.net)