Delegates Thoughts

Scott Walsh during final plenary session

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.

Karen Oehl 

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.

Brian Sheetz

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.

Dan Bryant 

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.

Martha Banks

A thank you to our delegates

East Ohio Delegation together one last time

Thank you for your ministry leading up to, and at General Conference.  Thank you, too, for sharing your thoughts so we could pass them along to our brothers and sisters in East Ohio.


Delegates Thoughts … What is The United Methodist Church to you?

delegates gather

“In countless communities across the globe the people of The United Methodist Church are carrying out our common mission of making disciples by connecting people to Jesus Christ.  Together as United Methodists we are agents of the Holy Spirit in helping to transform the lives of people and communities through ministries of compassion, healing, justice, and hope.  I am profoundly grateful to be part of a body of Christ followers who subscribe to the invitation of John Wesley, ‘If your heart is as my heart, then give me your hand.'”

Dr. Gary George

“The United Methodist Church IS my family. This family taught me how to love people. This family taught me to show compassion. This family taught me that every person is precious to God.

“I was ‘born’ into this family in the village of Richmond, a small community in southeastern Ohio. This small church taught me about places around the world. As a child, I learned that every penny I put into the collection plate had the possibility to change the world. The United Methodist Women provided a scholarship so I could go to church camp, the place where God became real to me.

“Over the years, my family expanded to include family around the world. Family who looked differently than me. Family who acted differently than me.  Family who spoke differently than me. My life is better because THIS family taught me how to look beyond myself and into the hearts of others.

“Today, my prayer is that THIS family remember we are stronger together!”

Kay Panovec

“What is the UMC for me today?

“Listening to the voices singing ‘Bind Us Together,’ as I entered the afternoon session of GC stirred by heart in ways that brought tears to my eyes.  I looked into the eyes of each person singing and acknowledged them with a nod and as I walked slowly by each person, I began to feel the tears welling up within my body.

“Of course, I had heard Bishop Ough publicly acknowledge that the Council of Bishops was not of one mind around the areas of human sexuality.   Seeing and hearing my sisters and brothers standing with hands symbolically tied and singing brought home the reality of ‘we are not of one mind!’

“The United Methodist Church is the vessel of God’s grace and, as Paul writes, in our weakness God’s power is made strong.  I believe that God’s grace is sufficient to open a pathway for healing and hope to move in ways we can’t imagine.

“May the world see the transformative power of God, through the church, that can find a way where there seems to be no way! Amen.”

Dan Bryant

“The UMC seemed a welcome relief after I spent several decades in denominations that lacked the structure of the Methodist churches. As I became a United Methodist, I believed that the connection provided accountability. My reading of the social principles gave me hope that the UMC was growing ever closer to a model of inclusion that followed the model set by Jesus Christ.  In the few years I have been a member of the UMC, I have found that the reality resembles a closed system that has little room for people who are different from middle- to upper-middle-class White Americans.  Even the pulpit is still limited to men, with clergywomen experiencing opposition, harassment, and little support from their clergy brothers.  Too much of the focus of the denomination is on money and knowing that one’s interpretation of everything is absolutely correct, with far too many members unwilling to be confused with facts.

“That said, the UMC is my church.  The UMC is my religious home.  The UMC is my religious family, albeit my dysfunctional family.  As I am trying to find my place in this family, I get messages that there is little room for my kind — lifetime learners, women who have been called to preach the good news and pay attention to “the least of these” (the family even argues over who the least are), negotiators, people willing to associate with ‘them.’  The legacy of 1939 is looming over my family in 2016; we are on the verge of exiling part of the church.

“I sobbed this morning as we sang ‘I Need You to Survive.’  My reading of petitions and the handling of legislation in committee and plenary sessions suggests that a lot of people in my family feel that they can survive better without parts of the family — particularly the parts of the family that look like me.  The grandparents of the family, the generation of wisdom, our bishops are having trouble engaging in holy conferencing.  We have three days to avoid a divorce.

“Dear Jesus, Your family is in terrible, terrible trouble.  Some of us have failed to see God in each other and are unable to love as You showed us how to love.  We have not learned from You.  HELP!!!  Amen.”

Martha Banks

I Protest the Protests!

In recent years, protests have been added to this list of things to be expected. I knew I was in for protests, but had no idea they would look like this.heetz,

By Brian Sheetz, East Ohio delegate to General Conference

During the communion portion of the opening worship a handful of LGBTQ protesters brought out a rainbow banner and offered their own communion in the name of inclusivity.  And Monday afternoon after lunch, a group of protesters in the name of Black Lives Matter interrupted the business session with a 30 minute protest.

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A church in prayer

Speaking on behalf of the Council of Bishops,Council President, Bishop Bruce Ough speaks to General Conference delegates in concern for the future of The United Methodist Church. Bishop Thomas Bickerton, presiding bishop, asks for prayer.