By Fred Koenig
In January I had the privilege of traveling to Portland, Oregon. The United Methodist Association of Communicators planned our annual meeting to match up to the Pre-General Conference News Briefing, so it made for a few days of seeing the broader United Methodist Church connection in action.
General Conference, as a body, is not as big as the Missouri Conference. There will be 850 delegates from around the world voting at General Conference this May. In comparison, we have about 1,250 voting members at the Missouri Annual Conference Session in Springfield each year in June.
But those 850 General Conference delegates have a big job – they review about 1,000 pieces of legislation, make recommendations and then vote on changes that will affect the entire church – for another four years, at least. In addition to the delegates, you have all the Bishops in the connection, people from the General Boards and agencies, various officials of General Conference, the judicial council, people conducting worship, a few thousand visitors…it’s kind of a big deal.
I recognized some delegates from previous General Conferences. One was a person who had spent a lot of time at the microphone. I really don’t remember what issue he was most passionate about, much less which side of the issue he was on, but I distinctly remember that at times when it felt the conversation was making progress, he always had something more to say. To see him again made me think, “Here we go again.”
But I tried to shake that hopelessness, reminding myself we are a people of faith. It doesn’t have to be a quagmire. General Conference can present opportunities for grace, and growth.
On my way out of Portland, I was taking the Max Line (the Portland version of a subway) to the airport. There was a guy standing next to me who could pass for a professional athlete - extra tall, muscular, chiseled frame, and wearing a t-shirt from a triathlon. He had been at the annual international conference for Tektronix, a company that sells measuring instruments. He asked what I was doing, and I said I was at a conference for people in the United Methodist Church.
“That’s great!” he said. “I hope you all can get out there and do everything you can to share the Gospel. The world really needs it.”
I replied that I hoped so, too, but sometimes seeing the amount of time and energy we have to put in hashing out details at General Conference was not exactly encouraging. He nodded in agreement.
“Moses came down from the mountain with 10 commandments from God,” he said. “You read on a little further in the Bible, and pretty soon there are a couple hundred rules introduced by man. People complicate things. It doesn’t have to be complicated.”
He went on to share how his life used to be a depressing mix of work and drinking, and not much else. Finding religion made a huge change in his life.
He’s part of a non-denominational church that traces its roots back to a bigger non-denominational church in California. In addition to being active in his church, he’s supporting new church starts, both locally and internationally.
Starting on January 1, the people of the United Methodist Church started officially praying for General Conference. Every Conference was assigned a day. Missouri’s day is March 7, and I’m signed up for the 8:30 p.m. shift. You can sign up, too, at http://tinyurl.com/mogcprayer. We’re Methodists – you don’t have to be registered online to pray. I hope you all join the rest of the Conference on March 7, and any other day you feel moved to, and pray for the delegation from Missouri and for everyone involved in the important decision making process of General Conference. May we see this as an opportunity to make the church stronger.