This will probably be my final post until after I return home. Tomorrow is the final day of General Conference, and I am uncertain of what tomorrow’s schedule will bring. I am deeply grateful for all of you who have experienced this journey alongside me in one way or another.
This morning, Diane Miller led our Western Pennsylvania delegation in a time of prayer and sharing, inviting us into the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who pondered in her heart the profound mystery of what God was accomplishing in her life. As a delegation, we then had an opportunity to discuss some of our lingering hurt and sadness from yesterday and to join together once again in a spirit of prayer and unity. I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity to “do life” with these faithful women and men from Western Pennsylvania.
During our morning worship service, Bishop John Yambasu (of the Sierra Leone episcopal area) proclaimed a message that left me feeling powerfully convicted in my frequent failure to live in a spirit of authentic community:
We sit together but are afraid of each other, so that we become enemies in the pew. I am fed up! The church doesn’t just need open hearts. We need COMPASSIONATE hearts! We don’t just need open minds. We need ENGAGED minds! Our church doors don’t just need to be open. They need to be DISMOUNTED and DISMANTLED so that people who aren’t like us can find their way in.
I heard in his words a clarion call to the kind of radical hospitality that dares to recognize the countenance of Jesus in the faces of even the most marginalized and disenfranchised souls.
As part of morning worship, we commissioned twenty-nine missionaries for the important work of spreading the Gospel throughout the world. It was nothing short of inspiring to see this large group of women and men responding to the call of Jesus Christ in a risky, sacrificial, and life-altering way.
A highlight of our day was a brief but joyful celebration of the 60th anniversary of the ordination of women in the United Methodist Church. It reminded me of how grateful I am to be part of a denomination that has lived into the Pentecostal reality that both sons AND DAUGHTERS are now gifted to prophesy. For sixty years, our part of the body of Christ has affirmed that ordination is dependent, not upon gender, but upon giftedness and call. It is heartbreaking that it took as long as it did. It is even more heartbreaking that some people in our churches continue to resist the idea of women clergy. Today’s celebration, however, was a loud “Amen!” to the amazing things that God continues to do through our church’s clergywomen.
It was an important but slow and laborious day of legislation, the spirit of which was much better than yesterday. We made our way through a good bit of legislation, but not nearly enough. Practically speaking, there are simply far too many petitions under the scrutiny of far too many people, all of whom desire to offer meaningful opinions that cannot be adequately accommodated by our limited time.
Petitions have come before General Conference in the past calling for a limitation on who can submit legislation (in an effort to produce a more manageable workload). But such efforts have been consistently rejected. Therefore, we are left with a noble but severely limited machinery called General Conference that cannot practice a thorough stewardship over its own agenda. I do not offer this perspective as a hopeless and bitter lament, but as a prayer for a more strategic and efficacious methodology. Having attended the last four General Conferences, I have become increasingly aware of how petition-management and its related fatigue often prevent us from giving our most attentive and energized minds to matters that demand nothing less than our collective discernment and prayer. I need to ponder this situation further so that I might move beyond complaining about the problem and become part of the solution, whatever that solution might be.
Since yesterday’s recommended “way forward” (offered by the Council of Bishops) was adopted by the General Conference, all petitions related to human sexuality have been deferred until a later date—meaning that the church’s current teaching on human sexuality is maintained for now as we move toward further conversation and discernment in the future. Even with these petitions removed from the conference’s agenda, we are still painfully overloaded. Much legislation, I fear, will have to go unaddressed.
Perhaps our most significant legislative decision today was to end the official relationship between the United Methodist Church and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). The rationale for the severing of this relationship is the conviction among many that the RCRC is out of alignment with our church’s nuanced teaching related to both abortion and the sanctity of unborn life. I had hoped that some other alternative organization would be recommended as part of the legislation (to ensure our denomination’s continued affirmation of the ministries of counseling, advocacy, and health services to women in need). Unfortunately, no such recommendation was included in the legislation. I am hoping that the United Methodist Women will help us to find our way into a new and healthy institutional partnership in the days ahead.
A couple of personal highlights: I was really proud of my friend, Rev. Bob Zilhaver, for the work that he did today in making two important and detailed amendments to legislation related to pension matters. Bob’s mind for complex legislation and his refusal to settle for anything less than integrity have always been a great gift to the church. He did essential work on our behalf today, and I am grateful for his willingness to stand in that particular gap.
Finally, many of us had the opportunity to conclude the day with our friend and fellow Western Pennsylvania delegate, Rev. Sung Shik Chung, at the Korea Night Dinner. It was a special opportunity to learn more about the rich history of Korean United Methodism and to celebrate the vibrant and vital ministries of our Korean sisters and brothers. Sung’s ministry in Western Pennsylvania (and beyond) is a profound blessing for all of us. Sitting at his table this evening was an honor that I will never forget.