By Amy Thompson
The General Conference of the worldwide United Methodist Church has called a Special Session. It will take place for a few days at the end of February in St. Louis. Methodists from the Missouri Conference and the Illinois Great Rivers Conference will be providing radical hospitality. We will welcome 864 delegates from around the world along with numerous guests. This Special Session is a result of the work of General Conference 2016 when the Commission on the Way Forward was organized to work on the issue of human sexuality as it pertains to clergy and marriage. The work of the Commission on the Way Forward, made of up 32 members both clergy and lay and moderated by three Bishops, was complete in early 2018, and three plans were offered to be considered in February. Their work was grounded in a lot of scripture reading, prayer, crucial conversations, acknowledging differing personal values to look at the greater body of Christ, and remembering the differing mission fields across our world.
Bishop Farr traveled the conference this past fall, visiting areas in every district to explain the three plans being brought forward by the Commission. He expressed that at the end of the day we must keep our focus on the mission of our churches, which is to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. He offered that his personal goal for all of us is that we live in spiritual community together amid differing beliefs.
As I think about spiritual community, I am reminded of our church’s Christmas Eve service. A group of individuals gathered to worship the birth of Jesus with the reminder of the promise of God's love on earth shared with one another. Families carried in food care packages to fill the church’s food pantry as part of our reverse advent celebration. That night, I met a guest. She recently moved to the area from out-of-state to be closer to her children and grandchildren and has been seeking a church home. As she shared with me how moving the music and word had been for her, tears came to her eyes. As I listened to her, I was reminded of the power in sharing of God's love in this earthly world, and of the way a person’s emptiness can be filled with music, kind words or a listening ear. I watched her tears turn into a smile as others greeted and welcomed her.
I know nothing of her political beliefs, social beliefs or socioeconomic status. I am sure that we have differences and differing opinions on likely many subjects. I also know that in that moment on Christmas Eve, we shared in the gift of love of Jesus Christ. I know as we include, accept and love one another, we are creating a spiritual community that is pleasing to God. This is the work of the church and its people that can and should exist amid differing opinions.
I don’t believe any of us have all the answers. Jesus laid the example and responded with the greatest commandments of “Love God and love neighbor.” My hope is that we remember these commands as we work towards resolution, remembering who we serve, who we love, and who we are called to love, while keeping our eyes on the mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Unity and focus are critical to fulfilling our mission in this earthly world.
Whether you plan to be in St. Louis or at home, I encourage you to be in prayer for the Missouri Delegation, conference staff and volunteers. Be in prayer for safe travels for all the delegates coming from near and far. Be in prayer for the Bishops that will be presiding over the session. Be in prayer for yourself to remain a calm presence as we wait.