Pastoral Series

Church Matters: General Conference

   Tomorrow I fly to St. Louis for a big church conference. Our United Methodist denomination has its General Conference every 4 years, when we map out strategy for the worldwide church, examine our mission and methods, and strive to be accountable to one another – and hopefully to be inspired. Men and women, clergy and laity, 864 of us, speaking diverse languages and from every kind of church imaginable. A mirror image of God’s kingdom dawning.

Makes good sense for a worldwide organization to do such a thing. But in this off year, we have a called, special, one-time-only General Conference convened for the express purpose of resolving our decades-long debate over who can or can’t be married or ordained, and if loving someone of your own gender is possible or prohibited. (Learn all about it here.) The other day, someone who was advising me on how to vote said “We have to stand up for something!” Our church stands for a great many things – which is why I find myself grieved, and maybe embarrassed that we expend so much energy and have a big called international meeting about this one thing when there are so many things to be busy about as Christ’s people.

We Christians recall and honor some big meetings from the past that have charted healthy direction for the church. The Council of Nicaea settled people down around the nature of God in Christ and how we are saved. Vatican II awakened reform and a movement to update the Catholic church. In 1968, we Methodists met and literally united with kindred bodies in the church (hence our name, “United Methodists”). I worry this meeting will be more about shrill denunciations or fracture. Pray for us. Pray for God’s church.

I care deeply about this issue and what it means for our people. We have to find ways to stop hurting people, and to welcome all people – realizing that welcoming some people seems to hurt other people. I am sure that what unites all our people, in my congregation and among the congregations of God’s good world, is the love of Christ, the mercy that flows boundlessly out of God’s heart, and holy need we have for one another, and the essential need right now in history to be a people who can love and stick together despite differences – something the world can’t get done and doesn’t believe is even possible. We have our chance to bear witness to God’s transformative love in such a broken world. Pray with me that we will be up to the task.

I take a deep breath as I dread and yet look forward to this conference. God’s people gathering to dicker? Not a lovely sight. But God’s people gathering – period, just because they are God’s people, and because they passionately want to do God’s will and be God’s church in this world? Beautiful, matchless, true glory. Pray for us, since beyond any question, Church matters.

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