“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs. 3:5)
By the time you read this, General Conference 2012 will be over. Decisions will have been made, tired delegates will have gone home, and the real work of the church -- congregations of Jesus’ disciples reaching out to invite and make a difference -- will continue. But as I write, it’s just past half-way through General Conference, after the first week’s legislative committee work and early in the second week when final decisions are made at plenary sessions. You’ll read and hear a lot about the actions taken so I’ll simply provide a few comments now.
So, what are my impressions of General Conference 2012 at this “halftime”?
First, it’s quite evident that we are a world-wide, diverse church. About 41 percent of the delegates are from beyond the U.S. – many from Africa where the church is growing, and many who don’t speak English. And, of course, there’s great diversity of opinion as delegates hold strong views on a variety of issues. Commitment to the church is strong, and everyone wants to see the church grow and make a greater difference in the world – although ideas vary widely on how that can happen.
Second, it’s also evident that our denomination with its many perspectives needs a lot more of what Gil Rendle calls “adaptive learning”. That takes time and desire to work together, embracing a common identity and purpose as we work through issues. It also takes trust. Simply communicating with people of other languages or opinions is difficult given the pressures of time and the volume of work. But there are real, purposeful efforts to reach out and bridge the barriers with translators and speakers reminded to talk more slowly. I think all the delegates are more sensitive and considerate as we try to understand each other – at least when language is involved.
The problem with adaptive learning, though, at least with General Conference, is that time isn’t something we have much of with the pressure of over 1,200 petitions. Some involve major issues that can divide. I’ve seen it already in committees and in the first two days of plenary. Still, I’ve also seen that when people take time to listen to others and really want to find common ground, the result is sometimes better than anyone could have planned. That’s exciting to see, and I believe it’s active work of the Holy Spirit in our midst. That happens when we follow Proverbs 3:5 (above), trusting in God and not our own limited perspectives and opinions.
Third, I’m thankful for you -- our congregations in Missouri and our Annual Conference. When I reflect upon how far we’ve come during the past few years to focus upon our mission of making transformative disciples of Jesus Christ, how you’ve worked to realign everything toward that, I see wonderful, fruitful ministry. The “adaptive learning” process is farther along in Missouri and for that I’m thankful.
Finally, I’m looking forward to our Missouri Annual Conference meeting next month. It will be different in many ways from the General Conference. I look forward to the fellowship, learning, and celebrating that will be part of our gathering.
General Conference is an important part of our church connection. These two weeks provide valuable insight with an opportunity to impact church structures and decisions. But the real work of the church isn’t there every four years – it’s in your community, your congregation, where you have an opportunity to transform lives. Every week and every day. It’s up to each one of us.
Thanks again for your leadership and prayers!
Brian Hammons, Lay Leader Mo. Conference of the UMC