I’m already on overload with regard to what to blog about, so this is longer than I might like. Feel free to stop reading at any point!
Worship this morning hit home for me during a prayer of confession, when we were invited three times to fill in the blank: “I confess that I have not… / my congregation has not… / the United Methodist Church has not..." When we got to the space for what the UMC has not done, I felt deeply the diverse and even divergent prayers going up in that moment, the things that a whole range of people in the room and watching the live stream were lifting up in their hearts. What one person prays in confession as a sin of omission is to another a sin of commission. And even the pain of that for me was its own kind of confession. I don’t know where that will lead us, but sending it up in prayer is a good first step.
Bishop Greg Palmer gave a rousing episcopal address and offered us a key word: humility. My eyes teared up as he led us in the intimate words of the Collect for Purity—“Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden…” He noted that General Conference 2012 took a lot out of us as a church, and that many of us have shown up in Portland expecting the worst. He also said that our capacity for turning on each other is destroying the soul of this church and underserving the mission to which God has called us. He invited (well, that’s a mild word for how he said it) to remember that we didn’t make this up, and that if we believe we belong to the life and work of God, if we are truly prisoners of hope, we have to pick up this work and live into it, come closer to each other, hold things together that don’t look like they belong. He urged us to reclaim our vocation as full-time Christians; “it’s going to take a full-time church to increase people's faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.” Bishop Palmer did his powerful best to remind us of our holy context and of the stakes involved in the way we live and work together.
As we proceeded, we practiced something that has been suggested several times for our work in El Valle District. All delegates are asked to use headsets or a cell phone app for translation, so no matter who’s talking, all can hear simultaneously in their own language (wait, that sounds like Acts…) This way, delegates who don’t speak English can speak freely at the microphone, without having to wait for translation to the whole group. This process keeps people from being singled out as different, dependent, or insufficient. I feel pretty proud of myself when we make English to Spanish translation happen at district events, but this would be a whole other step toward equality in diversity.
As expected, Rule 44 turned out to be a central topic of discussion. (A report with information about the rule is available here: http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/gc2016-adopts-most-rules-but-defers-rule-44) First we voted to table the rule; the motion wasn’t restated just before the vote, and some were not clear what we were voting on. A Bulgarian delegate moved that we untable it, and that passed. Then there were multiple amendments offered to the Rules Committee for their consideration, and for our vote tomorrow. There are strong feelings about this proposed process, and those seem to fall along the lines of disagreement on issues of sexuality. Those who want to change the church’s language are generally in favor of Rule 44, and those who do not, are not. That’s not necessarily to say that the converse is true—I think it’s possible to support the rule on principle. My reason for supporting it is a desire for us to hear each other. I’m not sure it provides a perfect forum for that, but why we think the current 3-speeches-for-and-3-against system is getting it done for us is beyond me. I just believe in the power of conversation and the power of the Holy Spirit to open up roads we might not have been able to see before, whatever that might mean. Humility.
The value of that kind of time became clear during our time of Christian conferencing after lunch. In our legislative committees, we were divided into discussion groups around the question of the global connectional church and what things might be important to include in a global version of the Book of Discipline. At my table were two DSs and two deaconesses from the Philippines (very sleepy, because for them it was the middle of the night), one layman from Nigeria who recently planted a church, and several others from the US. The US folks listened and learned about the Philippine and Nigerian contexts, which were fascinating, and by the end of our two hour time, we were sharing pictures of our children and friending each other on Facebook. No one changed anyone else’s mind on any important matters, but we came away sharing joy and affection for each other. Would that goodwill endure a hard theological discussion? I don’t know, and maybe we’ll find out, as we begin our legislative work tomorrow. But I am grateful to have been given time around the table to establish relationship. I know I generally can tend to be naive, but for me, when we have all sorts of reasons not to talk to each other, this kind of relationship still counts for something.