Thoughts on General Conference

A lot of ink has been spilled on General Conference, most of it digital. Some of what has been written is accurate, some less that accurate, some good, some bad, some mean spirited, and some hope filled. I hesitated to add to the volumes already written but writing helps me process my own feeling.  I didn’t have to post this, but my hope is it will help someone else process their feelings.

I was in St. Louis for General Conference and it was a painful few days. Regardless of one’s position, the pain of the LBGTQ community was undeniable.  Their pain came from feeling rejected by a denomination they deeply love, most grew up in, and feel a calling to serve.

In addition to all the words written there were a lot of words spoken from the floor and dais of General Conference. Some of the words were authentic expressions of love, support, and hospitality from the traditionalist to the LBGTQ community. However authentic those words may have been they rang hollow when you know there is a “but” either spoken or implied.  “We love you, you are welcome here, we want to be in ministry with you, butwe won’t affirm your call by ordaining you or celebrate your love by officiating at your wedding.

After all the words were spoken at General Conference, the Traditional Plan was passed by just over 50 votes. I deeply appreciate the traditionalist restraint by not clapping or celebrating the vote.  Much of the plan was ruled earlier in the day to be unconstitutional or had legality issues. In reality, nothing much changed.  The original language in the Book of Discipline 2016 remains the same. The issue of human sexuality will surely be revisited at the 2020 General Conference in a short 14 months.

I understand the position of the two basic groups in this conversation.  The LGBTQ community feels they are loved by God as much as anyone else and that love justifies full inclusion into the life of the church.  The Traditionalist feel a call to scriptural holiness and that understand the Traditional Plan uphold scriptural holiness.

I was not raised in The United Methodist Church, I joined as an adult.  I did not join because of the institutional church, I joined because of the love and grace that was shown me by individuals in a local congregation.  We saw the institutional church at its worst in St. Louis. There were moments when people from both sides of human sexuality debate got it wrong and acted less than Christian. The ministry of The United Methodist Church doesn’t happen a few days every few years at General Conference, it happens daily through local congregations.  It happens in large cities, small villages, in the open country.  Ministry happens among the poor and the rich, the young and the old, gays and straight, educated and uneducated.  The congregations I have had the privilege to serve ministered to whomever walked in the door or met on the street.  They never asked questions about the person’s stand on issues, their personal preferences, or their bank account.

I realize that the General Conference does speak for The United Methodist Church and that local congregations are a part of the institutional church. However, it is in the local congregation that incarnational ministry happens.  I also realize the great disappointment and frustration many feel as a result of the actions of General Conference.  I understand the convictions of those who feel they must leave the denomination because of its lack of inclusion.  I ask you to not make those decisions too quickly, but to keep focused on the ministry of the local congregation.  Many of our congregations are doing great ministries, ministries that are truly touching lives and making a difference in their communities and around the world.  These are difficult days for The United Methodist Church, and it isn’t the first time we have seen difficult days.  Our communities are filled with hurting searching people. Let us keep our focus on the local congregations’ ministries and the difference we can make in our communities.