I'm yanking the starter cord on this old broken-down blog in preparation for the special called session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, now less than three weeks away. I will again be present for this session, which is in St. Louis, and as was my practice in 2016, I plan to blog each day of the 2019 session, and on occasion in the days before. I think it is helpful to pop the hood of the church every now and again and allow others--particularly the members of the remarkable congregations I serve--a view into how decisions are made at the denominational level. I also think that it is good to think through how our connectional relationships and public theology influence our daily lives as United Methodist Christians.
Having read back through my blog posts from the last round, I can see some differences between how I approached 2016 and how I am approaching 2019. Probably the most significant difference is that while there were two occasions in 2016 where I got to sit in as a replacement delegate for a day, this time I will be seated as a voting delegate the whole time. I am not quite sure yet what that experience will be like, but the gravity of the work the church is doing is not lost on me. I feel inadequate to do that work, of course, but then that's sort of the whole point of Christianity, so it's probably good that I acknowledge the inadequacy on the front end.
Another difference is that I am trying to spend as much time as I can spiritually preparing for General Conference. In 2016, it being my first conference, I had no idea what to expect. And while this special session is its own animal--one nobody has experienced before--I now have a little more perspective on the kind of spiritual and physical toll that the conference can take. I don't mean to suggest that I left the 2016 General Conference having lost my loyalty to the United Methodist Church or my faith in Jesus. It's just that the heaviness of it all, the occasional back-room dealings, the fact that much of what went on did not feel holy: it beat me up pretty good. For reasons that are both structural and related to the specific struggle that nearly split the church, I have described the 2016 General Conference as one of the lowest points in my spiritual life. It's not that I have never experienced personal tragedy; I could show you the scars to prove otherwise. It's just that when I have experienced personal tragedy, I didn't have professed Christian people--leaders, even!--tell me that I deserved it. What's more, my own spiritual discomfort is dwarfed by that of many of the LGBTQ folk who have been on the receiving end of this conversation.
For what it is worth, as we prepare for the 2019 conference, I am coming in with a sense of peace, because I know that General Conference doesn't get to decide who God loves (everybody, by the way), and because I am learning that when things seem the most knotted up, when it seems like there is absolutely no way forward, that is the moment that God makes a way. I saw it happen during the 2016 General Conference, as we suddenly agreed to let the bishops lead us through this mess, even when it seemed like the whole thing was about to fall apart. I definitely saw it happen during the 2016 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference, as we elected five excellent bishops and experienced an honest-to-God miracle; if you are interested in that story--and on how I dealt with preaching in a dry season--you can listen to this episode of Dan Wunderlich's great podcast, Art of the Sermon.
I hope this series of posts is helpful and that it adds some context to the usually-entertaining but sometimes-toxic commentary that happens on Twitter around General Conference. In my next post, I'll talk about what the extensive preparation for General Conference looks like, both how our delegation has prepared and how I've been preparing, personally. In the meantime, in these final days before the General Conference convenes, I hope you'll join me in prayer: for our beloved United Methodist Church, for the 864 people who will be serving as delegates, for the LGBTQ folk who too often are treated as the subject of conversation rather than full participants within it, and--in particular--for those who have not yet experienced the life-changing and life-saving love of Jesus. The church exists for them, after all.