On April 7, 1805, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their Corps of Discovery set out in canoes into territory few white persons had ever entered. Lewis wrote in a letter to President Thomas Jefferson that day, “I can foresee no material or probable obstruction to our progress and entertain therefore the most sanguine hopes of complete success… At this moment, every individual of the party is in good health, and excellent spirits; zealously attached to the enterprise, and anxious to proceed; not a whisper of discontent or murmur is to be heard among them; but all in unison, act with the most perfect harmony. With such men I have everything to hope, and little to fear.”[i]
The Iowa Annual conference last week was sweet, inspiring, draining, encouraging, challenging, and humbling. Why do I have everything to hope for the future of The United Methodist Church and little to fear? Because of our call to “all in unison, act with the most perfect harmony” in fulfilling the mission of The United Methodist Church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The memories are imprinted on my heart.
- Colorful doors hanging on the back walls of the stage of Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines beckoned us to walk into God’s future together, wherever that leads The United Methodist Church.
- Experiencing the joy of United Methodists engaging in holy conferencing with deep affection for each other.
- A delegate offering me a hand drawn picture with a quote from John Wesley, “What one generation tolerates, the next generation will embrace.”
- Another delegate passing me a note through our Diakonos teenagers serving as pages, which included these paraphrased words, “I want to say thank you to my pastor and congregation for encouraging and creating an environment which houses many, many, many differing views on many subjects and issues on all points of the spectrum… I am so proud to be a part of such a diverse, challenging but loving congregation that is a model for how to be effectively in worship together, despite our deeply held differences, for the sake of Christ and our calling to serve all people… We need to figure out how to live together well.”
- Sitting on the edge of a canoe with second-grader and kid preacher Kinnick Driscoll, who prayed for us at the end of the opening service, “Thank you for our worship day and night. Thank you for making this a holy conferencing, not a kind of arguing conferencing. Help us to recognize you more and to show courage when making decisions about the church.”
- Standing room only at two workshops around how United Methodists can respond to the mental health crisis in Iowa.
- Sunday afternoon’s dialogue with four delegates to the 2019 called General Conference and Bishop Bruce Ough, one of our preachers. We discussed the work of the Commission on a Way Forward and the Council of Bishop’s recommendation of the One Church Plan. We also saw a video by Gil Rendle about how discerning the interests behind the positions we hold can enable people with differing opinions to find a way to move forward together. Click here to access the video.
- Being blessed by Rev. Christian Coon, lead pastor of Urban Village in Chicago, who came back to his home state to share a word of grace with the conference, reminding us that failing boldly can be a springboard for hope and new opportunities.
- Laying hands on the heads of five clergy who were ordained elders and then having the privilege of washing their feet. “If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet.” John 13:14
- Receiving the gift of extra time on Monday morning, which enabled us to have an “open mike” opportunity where anyone who wished could speak their heart to our denominational impasse around human sexuality. Speakers had up to 90 seconds, and there would be no arguing or rebuttals. What we experienced was a perfect harmony of generosity and depth of spirit that filled the hall as forty people were able to speak and more did not have a chance because of time. The invitation to simply listen to one another opened up sacred space.
- “We are finally getting to where we can be transparent.”
- “After many years, my niece told me that she was a lesbian and said, ‘I could not tell you before because you are a Christian. I was afraid you would stop loving me.’”
- “I am concerned that the One Church Plan will become the ‘do as you please’ option.”
- “I pray that we can hold close what we have in common rather than focus on what divides us.”
- “The primary question we should be asking is not, ‘Are you LGBTQ, but are you bearing fruit for the reign of God?’”
- “I am bisexual. I am afraid that my mother will lose her job because of me.”
- “What if we only had only option and we had to find a way forward? Then we would all have to grow up and be God’s people.”
- “If you preach Jesus Christ alone, go for it. I am ready to surrender all, despite personal preference.”
- “We talk about one church, but we are not living as one body and are guilty of institutional sin.”
- “I struggle with the LGBTQ movement, but I know they are created that way, and it is not a choice.”
- “I grieve when you talk about us without us at the table. We are not an abstraction.”
- “We are all one but think differently.”
- “Did Jesus ever exclude anyone?”
- “I know people who are LGBTQ, and it does not bother me. What does bother me is people who do not accept others.”
- “We must adapt to the next generation. What one generation tolerates, the next generation embraces.”
And are we yet alive? Indeed, we are, when we “all in unison, act with the most perfect harmony.” With such courage, conviction, humility, and grace, United Methodists have everything to hope and little to fear! “O God, help us to recognize you more and to show courage when making decisions about the church.”
[i]Stephen E. Ambrose,Undaunted Courage; Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West, New York, Simon & Schuster, 1996, p. 210.