Dispatch from Portland 2 - "Where the Spirit of the Lord Is, There is the One True Church"
"When the Day of Pentecost had come, they were all gathered together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind. But because the house didn't give the requisite permission for the sound to be heard on the floor, it was ruled out of order."
I know what you're thinking.
General Conference over Pentecost. C'mon, that's a God thing, right?
Surely, of all things and at all times if there was a moment to crystallize and clarify the hope and promise of The United Methodist Church's witness to make disciples and transform the world it is right here, right now. My Lord, we've got scriptural precedent on our side and everything.
Truth is, the Spirit has been in the room all week. There have been powerful words of witness, proclamation and worship. I'm bringing home a bunch of liturgies that will be a gift for our worship at home.
And while we've been in the same place physically, there is no question we are far removed from each other spiritually. It's in the room all the time. I'm INFP on Myers Briggs. Let me share what I intuit, what I feel.
Power plays among a few---Sure, there are 860ish delegates on the floor, and a couple of thousand reserve delegates, representatives of General agencies, and visitors in the house. The outcome of this General Conference will not be framed from a powerful address or sermon, but from the wrestling match of a handful of individuals who lead and manipulate their caucuses. Yes, it's as disgusting as it sounds. It's beneath the dignity of the congregants I've been blessed to serve across my years. Which raises the larger point - this body does not represent the hearts and spirits of ordinary United Methodists, even those who disagree. Rules under which this intractable body operates perpetuates power at the hands of a few.
All of which is sad commentary. Because there are some wonderful people here from all over the world who love God and are seeking to be faithful. While it seems Rule 44 wasn't ready to be implemented, whenever something rises as a differerent mechanism through which conferencing may occur, it will be met with similar parliamentary challenges.
Anger and Distrust -
These are the feelings that are strongest in the room. The theological straw men created by groups about other groups is amazing to me. The anger exhibited toward people who seek nothing more than to be included and welcomed stuns me. To be sure, I have a particular antenna tuned to that frequency so I'm watching for it, but it is there. No one seems to get the disconnect between refusal to engage in relationships with fellow Christians who disagree and being a Christian at all, since the sole basis of the faith is relationship!
And yet, there are moments of universal gladness. Our connection is capable of powerful things across the globe. There have been countless lives saved. Relief has reached the afflicted. The witness of a 14 year old girl (age of Jack) from Indiana who felt led to raise money to build fresh water wells in Africa was stunning. That girl is a world changer. I wondered to myself as the whole room stood in affirmation of her witness how she'd be received if she were to discover something about herself that would be "incompatible." Is her witness any less meaningful? Or course not!
Or take the Young People's report that bore witness to the Church they want to see, the Church they want to be part of. Let the young lead us, we'd settle out issues right quick. And yet that report was questioned as suspect. One delegate came to the floor to suggest that the youth were being coerced to say what they did.
Bishops Palmer and Dyck spoke words that touched me. Palmer's words were encouraging. Because of the faith we claim we aren't allowed to be without hope. We must push on. Dyck's words were as singularly prophetic as any I've heard. All that sermon needed was a mic drop. It was the sound of the Spirit in her words that could/should bring a new visitation of the Spirit. It shouldn't surprise anyone that it was not universally appreciated, but since when is that which is truly prophetic ever so?
Those two did for me what I needed for the next chapters of ministry. Despite being tempted to despair, I will not lose hope, and I will not yield the belief that codified exclusion diminishes our witness and violates our core principle to "do no harm." I will not yield to the conviction that we practice radical hospitality not "regardless" of who someone is, but "precisely because" of who God made them to be. I hold this conviction only because I believe in the Rule of Love first and foremost.
The Pentecost story involved being together in one place, yes. It was the presence of the Spirit among them that people were able to hear their language from someone they least expected to speak it.
If we're not willing to listen to one another it really doesn't matter what anyone is saying. I'm more and more convinced that the construction of this body, the General Conference, makes that purposely impossible.
Veni. Sancte. Spiritus. Come, Holy Spirit. Please.