Grand Rapids District Superintendent and Delegation Chairperson Rev. Laurie Haller shares her daily experiences at General Conference
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Last night delegates split into continental gatherings in order to discuss the global nature of The United Methodist Church. The phenomenal growth of The United Methodist Church outside the United States is exciting, yet it also presents challenges to a church that has been U.S.-centric for many years.
In the U.S. gathering I found myself sitting with 2 people from the California-Pacific Conference and one person from the Detroit Conference. Our dialogue centered around 4 questions.
What are the advantages of being a worldwide church? The global church:
- Enlarges our borders geographically as well as in our minds, hearts, and spirits
- Broadens our witness and mission
- Challenges our decline as well as our cherished traditions and calls us to reinvent ourselves
- Exposes us to the world’s struggles as our United Methodist brothers and sisters in the Central Conferences put a different face on the Christ we worship as Savior
- Prompts us to wrestle with what is fundamental and common to all of God’s children
- Raises awareness that decisions the U.S. church makes have an impact worldwide
What needs to be strengthened to maximize our fruitfulness and faithfulness?
- Leadership at all levels: we rise and fall with leadership
- Faith and skills development
- Cultural competency
- A commitment to unity in the midst of diversity: people want to be part of a church that embodies unconditional grace rather than a divisive spirit
How can we honor each other’s differences while strengthening our unity?
- Focus on prayer, repentance, and spiritual growth
- Understand cultural differences
- Discern how to honor differences when our Book of Discipline restricts us from doing that
How can we move toward more equitable sharing of power and representation around the world?
When we considered this last question, the light of Christ penetrated our hearts, and we realized that the very process we were engaging last night did not allow for an equitable sharing of power and representation. Hundreds of people in the bleachers had no opportunity to participate, hence the following motion and rationale which I prepared to be shared on the floor of the plenary today.
I move that we invite all people, delegates and visitors, to participate when we have times of holy conferencing at this or future General Conferences which are not official plenary sessions.
Last night we divided into continental groups to dialogue around the global nature of The United Methodist Church. My group included Frank Wulf, Mele Maka, and Charles Boayue, and I speak on their behalf as well. Our small group found last night’s holy conversation to be enriching, stimulating, and challenging. When we were given the last question, “How can we move toward more equitable sharing of power and representation around the world?” we realized that not everyone was at the table who could have been there.
The questions we were asked to consider were far bigger than just the delegates. We were blessed with many visitors from North America who were sitting in the bleachers and believe that we would have benefitted greatly from listening to their experiences and insights into the nature of the church. After all, the reason we are here, delegates and visitors alike, is because we are passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, revitalizing The United Methodist Church, and transforming our world into the kingdom of God. As Marcia McFee said last night, “It takes all of us in the boat to set sail.” Thank you.
My motion would not have affected the course of The United Methodist Church. It was minor compared to the removal of the guaranteed appointment, which we approved on the consent calendar today, or the discussion around our social principles. Yet it would have provided for the inclusion of all people in the proceedings of General Conference in a way that we haven’t practiced before. Ultimately, General Conference has little relevance if we make decisions in a vacuum.
I made repeated attempts throughout the day to be recognized by waving my white paper but had no success. After creatively fashioning a larger sign with 2 “No More Malaria” flyswatters and Commission on the Status and Role of Women stickers, I was finally seen and invited to make my motion. The motion was defeated, but it will continue to live in my heart and ministry as I seek to learn from and welcome all people into the life of The United Methodist Church, here in Tampa, at home in Grand Rapids, and around the world.
What a great church we have!