Please allow me to be personal on this one.
This will be my eighteenth year as your editor and communicator, and in May I will travel the “Oregon Trail” to Portland with others for General Conference 2016. It will be my fifth.
There are clouds of apprehension that hang over General Conference 2016 perhaps like no other. Conversations and rhetoric have taken on some of the sounds of brandishing swords and shields in preparation for battle. That will not serve grace and justice very well.
The world will be watching us closely in May. As United Methodists we have held tightly to our claim to be a united community but our “brand” is in danger of slipping, depending on what is demonstrated in Portland. And the question begging for an answer is, “Can the United Methodist Church hold up for the world to see, a peaceful, collegial, united gathering of Christians who are not of one mind?”
In March and April of 2015 there was an invitation to the clergy of the Susquehanna Conference to attend one of four “conversations” around the issues of human sexuality.
The four gatherings came out of casual conversation between a Cabinet member and a pastor who found themselves holding two very different perspectives. Both felt comfortable to explain the path that brought them to differing conclusions. That led to the formation of the same kind of conversation for a larger group of clergy who, like them, would probably hold differing views. Hence, the invitations by Bishop Park to the four “conversations.”
As the press contact for the Susquehanna Conference, this editor was invited to the first of the four in case there was press curiosity. While it was not deemed necessary for me to attend further, I asked to do so.
I have not been able to forget the conversations. I knew most of those in attendance and I also had some kind of perspective of the varied beliefs around the room that might ordinarily lead to voices raised at least a couple decibels. I heard none of that. Instead there seemed to be, unilaterally, a congenial sharing that was demonstrated without one raised voice. Christian/holy conferencing does happen around us!
There is a recognition of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples that is practiced, literally or symbolically, by many Christian associations. (There was a literal expression of the washing of each other’s feet from the stage of our Annual Conference several years ago.)
The practice usually involves a basin and a towel.
In John 13:14-17 Jesus offers a simple explanation of his action: “Just as I have done, you also must do. I assure you, servants aren’t greater than their master, nor are those who are sent greater than the one who sent them. Since you know these things, you will be happy if you do them.” (CEB)
May we suggest that, literally or symbolically, we enter the Portland Convention Center, brandishing basins and towels with an Isaiah-spirit of “come now and let us reason together.”
We pray for our delegation who will be among those who sum up the pleadings at General Conference 2016.