In the past few weeks, between holy week services and fundraiser dinners and youth group and church meetings and the normal day to day business of pastoring, I’ve been trying to get a handle on the general conference legislation.
It is actually difficult to try to digest it all. There are 1400+ pages in the Advance Daily Christian Advocate. There are different proposals about the same items. There are nuances. There are huge, crazy, dramatic statements.
And my blood pressure has been rising.
I have been focusing much of my effort on the materials related to restructuring and changes to the understanding of ministry. Which means that I put off the section on church and society. In part I was afraid to look. But I did. Monday night, I dug deep in those two sections and realized why I was so afraid to even look.
One of the reasons that I am United Methodist is because we have such a rich heritage of taking progressive stances in areas of war, poverty, work, and relationships. And for the first time, as I read through legislation, I began to worry that we might take huge steps back this year in our areas of social witness. Now, I have very little historical perspective under my belt. This is my first General Conference, my first rodeo, so to speak, and so perhaps these are issues that have come and gone before. Maybe there are always people making waves and trying to take us back to the way things were before.
But I do not have that history. And my shackles started to raise. I found myself wanting to yell at the pages and the proposals. I began to see familiar names repeated… legislation that would roll back some stances on worker’s rights, the death penalty, our positions on war and peace, and they were coming from the same few people.
Confession time: I started to feel bad thoughts towards those people. Until I realized that they were merely the secretaries of the conferences that those pieces of legislation were arising from. And then I really felt bad.
If we are not even at conference yet, and I’m feeling this defensive, territorial, angst filled… God help us all.
I closed my files. I took a deep breath. And I prayed for forgiveness.
In this particular General Conference, I get to travel on behalf of my conference as a reserve delegate. And this means that while I will not be voting on every issue, I will be in the midst of it all. And my prayer is that I can help remind us of the spirit of unity that brings us together as disciples of Jesus Christ. I want to surround my delegates with prayer and support. I want to be a calm, non-anxious presence for them and for all who gather. I want to breathe deeply and remember that this is the Body of Christ in action. I want to see the best in every person, hear their best intentions, and prayerfully discern together. I am going to lay aside my own anxiety, my own agendas, my own desires and truly hope that God will speak through us.
My friend, Anna Blaedel, wrote on facebook today: “holding the pilgrims making their way to Tampa in prayer… for courage… grounding… webs of care… for surprising in-breaking of Justice and Joy”
Instead of expecting the worst, I’m looking for God. I’m looking for where God surprises us, and breaks in to the ordinary time and the ordinary practices of debate and decision to bring holy unity and powerful witness. I’m looking for joy and courage and stories of resurrection and hope.
I repent of my divisiveness of spirit. I repent of my anxiety. And I pray that Christ would help us all remember – Peace.