Some have already left for early meetings. Others are leaving soon from places around the world. All are headed to Portland where next week, the 2016 General Conference of The United Methodist Church begins. Delegates from 130 Annual Conferences from all parts of the globe will gather at this quadrennial meeting of our Church. While many points of view on a variety of theological, ethical, political, and social issues are shared from our pulpits and our official and unofficial agencies on any given week, it is the General Conference and the General Conference alone that can speak for The United Methodist Church as a whole.
The ten day gathering in Portland will be filled with wonderful creative worship led by choirs, bands and preachers from many countries. There will be reports shared that will offer opportunity for celebration as well as reflection on where we need to grow and change. There will be mission opportunities and ministry information galore. And of course there will be the challenge that exists everywhere in United Methodism to focus on that which divides us or that which unites us.
I recall hearing recently a presidential candidate expressing the belief that while they and their opponent were both battling for their party’s nomination and were very willing to point out what they saw as flaws in one another, the things that held them together were much stronger than the things that pulled them apart. When I heard that I thought about our Church. I thought about how easy it is to focus on a few things that divide us rather than the many that draw us together. Now that is not at all to say that the things that divide us are not important, they are. But I believe deeply (you know that because this is not the first time I’ve written about this here in this forum), that one of the greatest gifts the UMC could give to our culture here in the United States is an image for how you find a way to love one another and live together when you disagree on significant issues. If there is anything we need in our polarized culture today it is this ability. So we must continue to speak to one another and share our various perspectives. More than that, we must continue to listen to one another and even more listen to the Spirit of God moving among us.
I don’t know what will happen in Portland this year. I don’t know what we will decide about any number of issues. And I am both excited about the possibilities and aware that regardless of what happens, some will come away unhappy. So I’m praying for the delegates. I’m praying for our Bishops. I’m praying for an outpouring of God’s Spirit upon them and upon our Church. And I am trusting that regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen, what new legislation or program or initiative is passed or not, that in the wonderful and amazing grace of God we will find our way forward into the rich mission set before us.
Thanks be to God!