Returning to Ohio, delegates share their final thoughts on General Conference 2016
I had a peculiar feeling as I walked out of the convention center at the end of General Conference on Friday. I felt sad. But it was not what you might expect – sad for our church, sad for the business that did not get done, sad out of disillusionment, discouragement, disagreement. It was more like the sad I used to feel when I was leaving church camp at the end of a week of camp. It could have rained all week, been full of mosquitoes, and involved homesickness and awkward relationships – but a bond would have been formed. Something happens when we come together and invite God’s presence to be with us. During the closing worship I gazed over the gathering of people from all the world and felt … compassion and love. The feeling did not come from within me so much as from God within me. To be truthful, I am not so great at loving. I need help. God help us. God help the church. God help the United Methodist Church. Let us not go too far from each other, and from You.
Seven Concluding Reflections of the 2016 General Conference
1. Expectations for General Conference far exceed what General Conference can produce. Legislation has its limits. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit does not. The United Methodist Church’s greatest opportunities as well as its greatest challenges are not primarily matters legislation can address.
2. The worship services were like “the wind beneath our wings.” The demanding pace and work General Conference requires of delegates, staff, and observers would be impossible without worship.
3. A phrase which kept coming to mind during some difficult moments and painfully slow parliamentary process, was “meanwhile back at the ranch.” I was constantly mindful of the compelling testimonies, faithful and faith-filled ministries, and transforming mission done by the nearly 12 million United Methodists around the globe who were not in attendance at the 2016 General Conference.
4. East Ohio never looked better, especially after nearly two weeks of General Conference. I am renewed in my gratitude for the laity, clergy, and nearly 740 congregations that make up East Ohio. We are far from perfect and yet I maintain some of the greatest saints I have known are right here in East Ohio.
5. More attention needs to be given to what is good about our United Methodist connection rather than what’s wrong with the church. The United Methodist Church does have its issues and challenges and yet, somehow, some way, the people of The United Methodist Church are making an impact for Jesus Christ in the lives of countless people and the communities which they live. We heard and saw compelling stories of how our Church is faithfully and fully engaged in making disciples for the transformation of the world through beginning new faith communities (new places for new people), developing and educating principled Christian leaders (lay and clergy), engaging in ministry with impoverished communities and persons (here and around the world), and seeking to bring healing by stamping out killer diseases (Imagine No Malaria). Clearly our heart is at these points and I hope most of the attention can be focused on what we do well together.
6. Prayer made and makes a real difference. I certainly realized and benefited from the prayers of those who kept the General Conference delegates in constant prayer.
7. Finally, God is good all the time and all the time God is good. Before, during, and after General Conference, Jesus Christ is Lord of the church.
Dr. Gary George
On one hand I became aware that the divisions within our church are deeper than I ever imagined, but on the other hand we’re still talking. Ours is not a perfect organization but still one with God at the center and missions playing a vital role. If we can stay focused on those two, the things that unite us, I am hopeful for our future.
As I headed home from GC 2016 and settled down to simply unwind, I felt a deep weariness envelope my spirit. I realized that for two weeks I had been fully attentive to the workings of the people, politics, personalities and emotional/spiritual struggles of those engaged in both the work and lobbying at the conference. I felt that we have a deep distrust in the church that is fueled by the efforts of people who, in my opinion, have their own agenda which can try to sidestep God’s real agenda and purpose.
Since I attended GC 2012 I was prepared for the overt and covert manipulation but still found it distasteful. I wonder where the real LOVE is as I listened to speeches and amendments and then, when following the tweets and website evaluations, heard words like “we won” and “they lost.” Lord, have mercy, on those of us who see your church as winners and losers.
I am cautiously optimistic about the Bishop’s Commission and the work they hope to accomplish in the coming few years. I trust the bishops and recognize their spiritual leadership is essential in a time where people simply don’t trust one another as Christ calls us to. I know many are skeptical but I truly believe that something new and innovative must take place for the global church to stay united. The cultural and theological differences are so diverse that we cannot fit into one mold of being and thinking. Yet, I sense there are those who only see one way as the right way and they will persist in their agenda.
For me, I am going to follow Jesus and love God with all my heart AND love my neighbor. I want the church to be a place where young and old alike can come and experience the LOVE of God. I will resist name-calling and bragging and posturing and simply seek to be a follower of Jesus. I pray others can find a way to truly do the same.
I read a lot. Daily and more often I read Scripture from The Holy Bible. As a researcher, most of the time I read professional peer-reviewed journal articles. Reading books is a luxury for me. When I have the chance to read a book, I start at the beginning with the dedication and take time to read through the acknowledgments. The acknowledgments list the angels who have made space in their lives to allow authors to use God’s gifts so that they can write.
At General Conference, I found myself reading people the way I read books. I listened for the acknowledgment of angels. I looked for the presence of The Holy Spirit in people as I met them, as we passed, when we worshiped together, when we spoke to each other or the assembled body, during fellowship, as we prayed – all the way through the two demanding weeks. The Holy Spirit was present, so very present. Unfortunately, the enemy was also present, making himself known by intolerance, insensitivity, attitudes of superiority, insulting others to their faces and behind their backs, assuming negative motives.
It was very painful to watch people set aside The Holy Spirit in service of the enemy, placing the judgment of people above the judgment of God. The process reminded me of Sunday morning Christians who worship together and leave the lessons of the worship service at the altar or in the pews, to be picked up and worn for another hour the following Sunday. At General Conference, we worshiped each morning and through Scripture after Scripture, lesson after lesson, sermon after sermon, hymn after hymn, praise song after praise song, prayer after prayer, we were invited to join each other and enjoy the diversity of the Body of Christ. As soon as worship was complete, some of the people in whom I had witnessed the presence of The Holy Spirit set aside that spirit and acted like they had never considered that all of us in the room are part of the very same Body of Christ.
The United Methodist Church is not very united. At the end of a General Conference, members of a united Church leave Joyful, exhilarated, excited, happy, feeling healthy in Christ and moving forward together on our journey toward perfection. People I spoke with at the end of the 2016 United Methodist Church’s General Conference were tired, exhausted, fatigued, sick at heart, frustrated, discouraged, unhappy…
Dear Lord, Your Church is in desperate need of Your healing touch. We gather in Your Holy Name, but focus not on the loving “div” of diversity but instead on the hateful “div” of division. You have taught us that You love all of us, not just those whom we arrogantly assume are like us. Your wonderful Son, our Lord and Savior, whom you sacrificed for our sake, taught us that we, all of us, are Your children, His Sisters and Brothers. Shine Your Light ever brighter, Lord, that we might be blinded to division and move closer to You and each other through the beautiful diversity that You and You alone have created. We ask for Your special healing touch on all those who were sickened in body, mind, spirit, and heart during this General Conference. Thank you for this and our many, many other blessings. We petition You in the Name of Jesus Christ.