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.