Friday, April 25, 2008

Opening Addresses, Part I

I'm going to have to blog a lot more than just at the end of the day if I'm going to keep up! Several of us from the delegation sat around talking last night, so I didn't try to blog then, but I'll try to start catching up now...

And I'll start with the opening addresses. There were three: the Bishop's Address, given by Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher; the Young People's Address, given by six UM's (both lay and clergy) under the age of 30; and the Laity Address.

I should probably describe some of the set up--the delegates are seated in 4 sections, laid out in quadrants with a stage area in front (that's where the bishops and the other speakers are). A pulpit and a font are up on stage. But in the crossroads in the middle of the delegates is a huge round table, made of wood recovered from the Gulfside Assembly in Mississippi which was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina (the font and the pulpit are also made from the wood). It's great to see it there in the midst of the delegates--the seeds of destruction turned into something beautiful.

And the Bishop's address made use of the table to remind us that we gather, not around an agenda, but around Jesus Christ. She wove the report and the hope that we have for our future around 4 proposed areas of focus. In and through the report, we heard and recited parts of the Great Thanksgiving. It was a gorgeous way of reminding us that we live lives of sacrament. It was also a powerful way of manifesting that as the Body of Christ, we too are broken open and poured out for the world so that all might know Jesus Christ and live.

We heard about the four pathways too, which will provide areas of focus for the United Methodist boards and agencies for the next four years: 1) leadership development for both lay and clergy; 2) starting new churches in new places for new people; 3) eradicating poverty through ministries for and with the poor; 4) eradicating the diseases of poverty, especially malaria (through the Nothing But Nets campaign), AIDS/HIV and tuberculosis.

So at this point, we've only been there for 3 hours, and I feel full already! It's so exciting to not only hear that the United Methodist church has committed itself to these life-changing hopes and dreams--it's especially exciting for me that I feel the spirit moving that through Christ we can actually accomplish them! This is the transforming church at its best--when lives are saved, both physically and spiritually.

The thing that is still sticking out in my mind is the drum beat. The music for this conference is fabulous, led by Marcia McFee and Mark Miller. They use a lot of percussion, especially African drums, and it just sounds like a heartbeat, strong and sure. I am drawn to music with a strong beat which then dances in and out on the "offbeats". I feel like the Spirit is dancing with us in those moments and flowing in and out of the music.

And the song that keeps going through my mind is a text that I have known for awhile: "And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace." Right now, that all seems possible, even though I know that the decisions won't do anything to create those things if they are not put into actions. None of this will make any sense unless this passion moves outside of the Fort Worth Convention Center and into the churches.

The Bishop's address continued the theme of hope...and the fact that we can't calculate exactly what the future is going to bring. But I have this sure conviction, from the bleachers, that the decisions we make here can bring forth fruit. PLEASE continue to pray this might be so.

I'm trying to keep individual posts shorter, so I'll blog about the next addresses, the Young People's and the Laity a little later!


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