By Brian Hammons
General Conference, the every-four-year gathering of United Methodists from around the globe, begins soon – May 10. 864 delegates and a lot of others will descend upon Portland, Oregon for almost two weeks. Including 12 delegates (lay and clergy) from Missouri, with four alternates. During the conference we will celebrate ministry, worship, pray, deliberate and vote on legislative proposals to set policy and direction for the church. Sounds like a typical Methodist conference, doesn’t it? Well, this one is generating a little more anxiety than usual.
You may have been paying close attention for months to the issues and legislative proposals. Or you may be more focused upon the ongoing ministry work in your local congregation – perhaps also looking forward to our Missouri Annual Conference meeting in June. Honestly, that local focus is where ministry happens and disciples are made, lives transformed. So keep that up. But this General Conference may have a significant impact upon all of us. Here’s a quick update as we get ready to go.
Our Missouri delegates elected last June have been meeting since August, hearing about details and discussing some of the major issues. We’ve shared hopes and prayers, learned principles of “Crucial Conversations” and “Holy Conferencing,” and practiced our shared values. We’ve bonded together as a delegation in some very positive ways. And we’ll need all those conversational skills and spiritual focus as we discuss and vote on important issues that generate emotional reactions. Because faithful Methodists have different opinions and folks will disagree, especially as we work with those from other conferences.
The big issue on many minds is the church’s position regarding marriage and ordination of homosexual persons (LGBTQ). Unfortunately, the way the church deals with this will dominate secular media news stories, as it already has consumed a lot of energy in many church conferences and discussions. There are other important issues too, such as ordained ministry process changes, the general church budget, pension fund divestment, structure change proposals for various levels of the church, social policies, and even a new hymnal. Of course, all this is with the denomination’s continuing decline in membership and attendance numbers in the U.S. And the tremendous growth in Africa, for which we’re thankful.
My hope and prayer is this: that God will be present in obvious and memorable ways; that our Missouri delegation will be united in purpose, focused upon connecting people with Christ, and engaged in the process while seeking God’s truth and grace; and that we may return from General Conference with even greater focus upon our mission of reaching people in Missouri through building stronger congregations and leaders.
How can you keep up with what happens? First, pray – for our delegates and for the entire church. See page 27 for ways to follow the Conference at home online, and follow www.60daysofprayer.org before General Conference starts. Fred Koenig will have regular updates from Portland through Net News, the Conference e-newsletter.
As we move into this season of General Conference followed by our Annual Conference in June and all the changes coming afterward, may God lead and inspire us all with wisdom and discernment, with peace and clarity, and with confidence that God’s work in the Methodist movement continues through you – in local congregations – to reach people all around us with the transforming grace and truth of Jesus Christ.
So it’s on to Portland for General Conference May 10-20. Here we go!