Monday, May 5, 2008

Wrap Up Still to Come

Hi there! I was pleased at how many of you said that you had been following General Conference this time and that you had been reading my blog! I promise you that I have many more notes and will be putting up at least two or three more entries to wrap up the GC08 coverage.

After that, I will probably be continuing this blog for my observations of the Jurisdictional Conference (in July) and our Annual Conference (in June). I think the way our connection functions is something that is a mystery to a lot of people, and I just want to get information out there!


Friday, May 2, 2008

In the Cups...Out of the Cups

I was reminded of something tonight that originally caught my ear last Thursday on our opening day of addresses. But that was such a full day of soundbites that I didn't remember it until this morning when they played it again.

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson was talking about cups. The primary purpose of a cup when it's empy is to be filled. The primary purpose of a cup when it's filled is to be emptied. We are the cups, she told us.

She was speaking about the generosity in which we need to live our lives. For the time being of the General Conference, that generosity has been shown primarily through our Nothing But Nets challenge that was brought to us by the Kansas East delegation. They bid $420 for a basketball that one of the bishops brought out in explaining the Nothing But Nets program. They challenged the delegations from the other Final Four team areas to do better. After receiving so many bids, each one topping the other, the bishops last night went out and bought basketballs, saying that any delegation that wanted to bid at least $1000 would get to take home a basketball signed by the bishops.

Winning bid for the original Bishop's Ball came from West Ohio (hi Becky!). It was $80,000.

Along the way, Bill Gates' father, William Gates, Sr., told the General Conference that he would match the winning bid. With everything counted, the final total was over $420,000 for the Nothing But Nets Campaign.

We have a lot in our cups. I'm not sure what it means about us that it took that kind of competition to get it out of them, but I'm sure glad we were emptied in that way.


Thursday, May 1, 2008


Maybe it's just me being a young person. Maybe it's that I have started to develop a low tolerance for wasting time. Maybe I just see too many things that actually are good for the body as wasting time.

But this morning and afternoon were interminable. We are still working on 22 Constitutional Amendments that have to do with how we will be a global church.

But I understand--part of what happens at conference is that people come in unprepared to deal with major changes because they have not been adequately explained and explored by the people who need to make decisions.

I need to remember that when I think something is good for a congregation--I need to adequately explain everything so that all might make informed decisions and feel good about what we're doing.

The things that frustrate me about this conference (speeches in the form of parlimentary questions, not being able to speak, long days) are things I need to remember that I am perfectly capable of and perfectly guilty of perpetrating at the local church level.

And I'm sure that someone who is reading this blog will remind me of the lessons! I'm glad for that!

But in the midst of everything, I'm still enjoying getting to know people better, to interact with people from around the United States, etc. I had a wonderful conversation today with the people who are here with the Advance Specials. They have a display in the exhibit hall, and asked me if I knew about the Advance. When I told them that we had actually put it on our wedding registry, they asked if they could do a story on Clayton and me!

It made me feel good because they said they want to inspire other people to do creative things to support their church. I feel sometimes like I have too many ideas and that I'm never going to be able to get any of them done. Or that people say "You'll never get that done, but good luck trying." I feel like when I hear something about the ideas of me and my fellow young clergy actually having a potential impact on the greater church...that I might not be so naive after all that I really can make a difference in our church and in the world.


Being in Committee

This is the blog post I promised a couple of days ago! That's one of the things about this General Conference--we have so little time to get so much done, and we are all averaging 4 hours of sleep a night!

There have been many painful discussions at this General Conference. In the subcommittee I observed, I watched one of those painful discussions. Here are some of the things I wrote when I was watching (my commentary from later is in parentheses).

I wish we prayed more in the committees and subcommittees. (I understand from some of the other delegates that there was a good deal more praying than I observed in my committee in some of the other committees...)

I like the fact that each sub-committee has to come up with a rationale for its decision. This seems to be the most difficult of the work of the Conference. (After making a decision about every petition, the committee or sub-committee has to come up with a written rationale--which means there's got to be reasoning and some kind of basis for each decision. I like that because many people take time to write petitions and they each deserve measured consideration. It would be easy, as I've said, to dismiss many of them, but we can't dismiss anyone--an important point for United Methodists.)

There is a degree of pain sharing here that is deeply vulnerable. What healing could come out of sharing our pain openly instead of yelling at each other or fighting? Can people truly listen to the pain of others here without agenda?

What stories are behind this discussion? I see many stories flashing across their faces.

If the theme of the General Conference is A Future With Hope, what hope are we trying to embody in making these decisions? Where is the "hope language" in the rationale?

There are many people conflicted by all that they read in scripture. Do we read in a vacuum? Do we read with a specific lens in mind? How do we discuss issues with people who read through a different lens? Are some lenses "better" than others?

I hear people struggling with the different stories in their own lives. They can't quite reconcile those stories with what they are hearing and what they believe. How could the church respond and help people try to work through integrating all the stories of their lives with the story of scripture?

This really is a wacky group for God to call together. If I trust that the Holy Spirit worked in the elected process, quite frankly, what was God thinking? (I have this thought a lot when I look at the church--God this week is a strange comedian.)

Now we return to current commentary:
Have you ever been in a study group with people who thought differently from you, either because they came out of a different worldview or a different background? How did you react when your views were challenged? What did you think about when you were challenging someone else's views?

We are doing work that will affect people's lives. We need much prayer.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

So Glad To Be a United Methodist

I know this is out of order, but I just have to write about today here at General Conference. At 3:55pm, they closed all the doors of the conference hall. Police presence has been felt all day, along with bomb sniffing dogs because security needed to be tight.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of the Republic of Liberia, addressed the General Conference. And the tone for her address was set when we learned from her bishop in Liberia that she was a "daughter of the United Methodist Church". She attended a Methodist school in Liberia as a child and graduated from a Methodist college. She was one of the leaders of the reform movement and the first woman elected in a democratic election process in Africa.

She was incredible. She spoke with passion about the way that Liberia is beginning to put itself back together after years of corruption and strife. And she spoke about the way the church was working with places such as Liberia to offer hope to even more people. I urge you to check out her address at the General Conference website (

As flawed and as failing as the church is, I fell in love with it all over again. This church reaches worldwide and it is passionately spreading the good news in word and deed. It is offering hope to so many people who have very little to hope for.

Unemployment in Liberia is down from 90% to only 65% (!!!!). Poverty is still something that they're working on as about 75% of the population lives on less than $2 a day. Many of them live on less than $1 a day. But whereas there used to be a lot of fear and suspicion of the government, now their reforms and generous actions to help others are beginning to have effect and the light in children's eyes are beginning to come back to life. They don't shy away when her convoy comes to town.

What an incredible moment--to share that with all these people. In that moment, the disagreements (which will resume tonight) and the hard choices we think we're facing just melted away and anything was possible.

So that's my unattainable prayer--one that only God can answer and only through God can an answer come--that through the love of Christ in the United Methodist Church that anything might be possible and the world might truly be transformed.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Radical Act of Hospitality

That's what General Conference is, you know. A radical act of hospitality.

First we have to be hospitable to the Holy Spirit. And you know, sometimes we just don't want God to mess with our business. But that's the whole point of General Conference. That we invite God to not only mess with our business, but through the Holy Spirit, to be in charge of it.

Then we have to be hospitable to each other. That's difficult enough when you differ from someone theologically or generationally or geographically. But when you add all the other different layers on top of it--different languages, different cultures, different worldviews--it just becomes something that we have to work at. It doesn't come naturally sometimes.

In my committee, we have several people who work with translators (French and Portuguese mostly). And the delegates have to remember to speak slowly and clearly so that the translators can get the message to their delegates. It is something we do willingly so that all might be included in the body.

It made me begin to wonder what a radical act of hospitality might look like for our home congregations. Say you have someone in your midst who doesn't speak "churchese". Think of how many terms you use that are "foreign" to someone just walking into our midst. Can you be as hospitable and welcoming to them?

But the hospitality lessons continue. We must be hospitable to the thought that we're not always going to be on the side of the majority. We must be hospitable even when our first thought is that the person speaking is crazy. Because it just might be the very thing that you need to hear. And you can't cut off conversation because you've made an assumption.

I believe Holy Conferencing is working in our midst. In my next post (the one above this one!), I'll describe some of my thoughts as I watched a sub-committee of the Judicial Administration committee work through petitions which have to do with whether or not pastors can be charged for being self-avowed practicing homosexuals or for performing homosexual union services. There was plenty of room for inhospitality there, but I saw something very different.

The tone of the conference is much more reaching out to one another. One story and then I'll go. One of the other groups that had a petition that addressed homosexuality (and whether clergy who were self-avowed practicing homosexuals would be eligible for ordination) was passionately debated on the floor. One gentleman identified himself as a homosexual and spoke passionately to open the clergy ranks to all. Another woman spoke equally as passionately about the realities of her home and what kind of damange that kind of proposal would do to her church. They both acknowledged that damage would be caused to someone no matter where the General Conference came out on the issue.

After the vote, which affirmed (in committee...this legislation has not reached the floor at the time of this blog) the previous standards for clergy (celibate in singleness, fidelity in marriage, self-avowed practicing homosexuals not eligible), the gay man who had spoken so passionately stood up and led the delegates in singing praise to God. The young woman who had also spoken so passionately stood up and went and joined him.

That is where the hope of the church lies for me. Not that we will find agreement on every issue (already we aren't doing that...) but that we will find ways to affirm that God is still God, Jesus Christ is still our common Savior and Lord and we are still the church, flawed yet growing toward perfection.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Old Illustrations, Fresh Ears

I know I've spoken about the preaching quite a bit since I got here, but truly, we have bishops who are excellent speakers.

On Friday we heard from Bishop Joao Machado of Mozambique. He spoke Portuguese, so we listened with an interpreter (one of the joys of General Conference is having several languages spoken!). He said he was somewhat embarrassed to get up and talk after all of the wonderful sermons and addresses we had had so far.

But then he said he knew of a preacher who came to a church whose reputation was that they "looked inward" and not out at the world. He said the pastor preached a very good sermon about going out and doing something about the problems right outside their door. He received lots of wonderful compliments that day. The next Sunday he came in and preached, word for word, the same sermon. People were taken aback and thought that perhaps he had gotten mixed up. Not wanting to embarrass him, they didn't say anything except to thank him once again for the wonderful message. The third Sunday, when he preached the exact same text and the same sermon, the church leaders went to his home and asked if he was aware that he was preaching the same sermon. He said, "Until you show me that you can put into action the words I am preaching, I'm not going to change my sermon."

I don't know whether I identify more with the preacher or with his congregants sometimes.