General Conference Dispatch (May 4)

Friday, May 4, 2012  

Henri Nouwen once said, “When we persevere with the help of a gentle discipline, we slowly come to hear the still, small voice and to feel the delicate breeze, and so to come to know the presence of Love.”

Today is our last day of General Conference, and we have many important issues yet to consider.  There is a sense of anticipation and anxiety as we realize what is ahead of us, knowing that because only 32% of the calendar items have been cared for, some of the issues we hold dear may not even come to the floor.  The still, small voice of God has been hidden at times this week by strident, partisan voices advocating our own agendas.  We will end up with a Discipline that will not seem gentle to everyone, but with the help of a gentle discipline of prayer, spiritual formation, and quiet perseverance, we move forward, knowing that the presence of Love goes with us.

A motion was made this morning that we reconsider our previous decision to combine the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (COSROW) with the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) and include this new Committee of Inclusiveness under the authority of the new General Council for Strategy and Oversight.  The reconsideration came because one of our core values in The United Methodist Church is to advocate for inclusiveness for women and people of color and challenge sexism, racism, and oppression at all levels of our church.

Proponents believed that COSROW and GCORR should remain separate and that the 2 agencies should be independent and not directly accountable to the General Council for Strategy and Oversight.  The body did not vote to change its previous decision, and I am concerned that with the elimination of the guaranteed appointments some of our colleagues who are women and people of color may be at risk.  At the same time I felt the delicate breeze of the Holy Spirit and am so proud of a denomination that cares for the very least in our midst.

First time delegates often leave General Conference both energized and disillusioned. They are encouraged by the faith, commitment, and far-reaching impact of the people and ministries of The United Methodist Church.  At the same time they are shocked at the intense lobbying and strategizing by various factions and are confused by the harsh ways in which we can treat those who disagree with us.  They are also discouraged by the snail’s pace at which we enact adaptive change in our denomination.

At the very moment I am writing this a 31 year old first-time delegate rose to address the General Conference.  She spoke of closed door meetings, systemic manipulation of the process, youth and young adults being ignored, and dismissive behavior which leads to fear and mistrust.  She said that this General Conference will be known as the time when we restructured but provided no formal place for young adult voices.  She ended by saying, “I love you, and Jesus calls all of us to do better together.”

General Conference is the church at its best and at its worst.  Spiritual maturity recognizes that perfection and imperfection are everywhere and that what benefits us may very well result in hardship or even injustice for others.  We will not fix everything.  We will not solve all of our problems. We will leave tomorrow, having done the best we could but knowing that we could have done far better.  It’s the human condition.

I pray that we have done the least harm as possible to others and the kingdom of God, although I’m not sure we’ve accomplished that goal.  I pray that we have done as much good as we possibly could – good not for ourselves, but for the church and for our world – so that we can live into a future where laity and clergy alike are empowered, equipped, and emboldened to bring in God’s kingdom.  Most of all, I pray that we will stay in love with God.  Ultimately, it’s about love of God, neighbor, and self, and it always has been.

“When we persevere with the help of a gentle discipline, we slowly come to hear the still, small voice and to feel the delicate breeze, and so to come to know the presence of Love.”

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