I’m not even sure there are words to describe the last 24 hours.
My roommate and re-acquainted friend from our youth days, Jessica Ireland, was hit by a truck in an intersection last night. She came out on the other side sore, scraped up, with deep scrapes on her foot that will take a while to heal… but with no broken bones. She came back to the hotel late last night and some of us young adult delegates from Iowa kept her company with pizza and conversation and laughter until the wee hours of the morning.
With little sleep, but a heart full of gratitude that Jessica is okay… or at least will be with some time… we headed to conference.
Our agenda today dealt with sex, money, and power. Literally.
Human sexuality occupied most of our morning session… and I do mean most, because after we failed to pass legislation that claimed United Methodist people of faith disagree on the issue, a protest crossed the bar and occupied the space. We were heading into the morning break, so it didn’t seem like a big deal. Those of us who gathered shared communion because what else do you do when you feel so broken? Where else do you turn?
But as the conference returned from break, it became clear that those who were in the middle were not leaving. I was back in my seat, but others refused to budge. After the monitoring report in which our head of GCSRW took off her badge and prophetically helped us to see that all of us are children of God, Bishop Coyner declared that the conference was unable to continue its business, he dismissed us for lunch (1.5 hours early), and declared that when we returned from lunch at 2pm that the plenary hall would be closed to all but delegates.
I’m going to just say it. I am an ally of the GLBT community. I have not always been a strong ally or advocate in the past because I feel it is my pastoral duty to care for all of my flock and to provide a safe space for people wherever they are and whatever they believe. So, I’m not outspoken. But my mother-in-law is a lesbian. I have dear friends who are clergy and/or would like to be clergy who are out. I have friends and mentors from my years in seminary and working at West End who are gay or lesbian or transgendered and have helped me to become a better Christian. A good friend from my high school youth group came out to me as bisexual. I have congregation members who have GLBT sons or daughters or grandchildren or siblings.
So as I watched my brothers and sisters in Christ in pain, I was heartbroken. We had said once again that we can’t even agree to disagree about this issue. And I saw the faces of those I love and knew that I couldn’t stand by, I couldn’t leave the plenary space if they were there, singing their hearts out, around the communion table. Not knowing if as a reserve delegate I would be allowed back in if I left for lunch, I sat in my chair and wept with friends. I prayed with my Bishop. While I knew that I was not prepared or felt comfortable occupying the plenary space or facing potential arrest from the non-violent demonstration, I was determined not to be shut out of the room. I prayed for a peaceful resolution for that moment… knowing that a peaceful resolution for our denomination would have to wait another four years or longer.
For three hours, those who were around the communion table sang and marched. And as plenary gathered once again, it was announced all would be welcome back in the room. And then our Bishops became our pastors. They calmed our hearts. They spoke peace. It was not okay, and they spoke that truth. Bishop Wenner said: This General Conference and the polity of our church have hurt you. She was real. She was honest. And we all listened. And the protest ended and they marched out of the room holding one hand up in the sign of peace.
Someone tweeted that nothing quiets a protest faster than a discussion of actuarial tables and within minutes, we were ankle deep in pension discussions. And then we talked about delegating the powers of general conference to another body and the petitions (amendments to the constitution) failed. And all day long, I kept looking for the voices of women and people of color and they were few and far between. I’m not sure if we were tired or beat up or if we just couldn’t get a word in edgewise, but the entire afternoon felt very heavy…
When we came to worship this evening, we weren’t quite sure we wanted to worship. We weren’t sure our hearts were in it. But Marcia McFee did it again… the right words at the right time. The right songs to stir our souls. The right symbolic actions to bring us together as the body of Christ… and dear Lord, the right bishop to break open the word of God for us. Bishop Kiesey’s words were like healing balm for my soul. I was reminded that this work of two weeks is just that – long, hard, difficult work. But it is not everything. We are called to feed the lambs of God. We are called to feed the sheep of Jesus’ flock. And on Sunday I’m going home to be IN ministry. To love the flock God has entrusted me with… to lead them… to feed them… to care for and cast nets wide in search of those people in my community who are desperate for God’s love. None of this matters if we can’t leave this place and go and serve the ones Jesus loves. That’s it. Feed his sheep. Simple. Succinct. So True.
As we closed, the Lake Junaluska Singers broke it down like no other. A regular dance party broke out on the floor of general conference and we continued dancing until we had worked out all of the tension and stress and weariness of the day. It was cleansing to let go. It was holy to let the Spirit move us. It was joy in the midst of suffering, kindom fellowship in the midst of the broken world.
My friend, Sarah, told me tonight that there is a reason dancing is a part of a purging ritual in so many cultures. We can’t carry that pain with us everywhere. We have to shake it off. We have to dance it out. We have to let wild abandon come over us so that we can breathe deeply, replenish our souls, and start over again tomorrow.
Lord have mercy.