I have been getting ready for the Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church that will take place later this week. It is the annual meeting where clergy and laity representing every church in the Conference meet to do the business of the Church, worship, have fellowship, and be reminded that we are a connectional Church. During the spring, Annual Conferences all over the United States are doing the same thing. Then they will meet in their Regional Jurisdictional Conferences next year, before joining with United Methodists from all over the world at General Conference in 2012. For some this is a fact of life without much celebration and anticipation, but I have always enjoyed the nuances of holy conferencing. I love seeing, not only my friends from all over Virginia, but looking out over the venue where thousands of United Methodists are busily interacting with one another. There is nothing like seeing that many of your people in one place. In their own way, each one loves God as much as I do.
(Image courtesy of reference.findtarget.com)
General Conference of The United Methodist Church, Ft. Worth, TX, 2008.
Scripture speaks of gathering God’s people together:
“Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet unborn may praise the LORD: that he looked down from his holy height, from heaven the LORD looked at the earth,to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die; so that the name of the LORD may be declared in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem, when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the LORD” (Psalm 102:18-22 NRS).
There is something so sacred about Christians gathering together in holy conferencing. Whether it is the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church meeting to elect a new pope, or United Methodists defining their doctrine and discipline, or a local church’s governing committee planning the budget and mission for the coming year, Christians are both blessed and burdened with the task of ordering the life of the Church and continuing the mission of Christianity: spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, too many of us think that it is someone else’s job, responsibility, gift, obligation, and not ours. Each and every Christian is called to be a part of Christ’s ministry to the world. You and I are expected to be a part of the Church in its entirety, not just come to worship on Sunday morning. God has graced you with a mind to dream, to create, to ponder. The Lord has given you expression in your body; hands to use, feet to carry you, facial features to express yourself, and a mouth to speak the truth in love. The Church universal, as well as your local congregation, needs you – all of you, all that you can do, all of your God given gifts and talents.
The fact is that each denomination needs to hear more than just the voices of leadership; we need to be reminded that there is more than one perspective, more than one experience, even if there is only one Lord. We need to hear the many voices of truth. We cannot see the full picture, cannot hear the fullness of the Church, cannot feel the full movement of the Holy Spirit without you. I pray that you will prayerfully consider how God is calling you to be a part of this amazing part of the Body of Christ, United Methodist or not. If you are Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Anglican, Methodist, Orthodox, Catholic, or any other denomination of Christianity, then you are part of the Body of Christ that stretches beyond borders and geographical boundaries. It covers the Earth and reaches to its ends, so that we may lift our voices to the heavens and praise our Lord and Savior. In honor and glory of this miraculous phenomenon, I offer this prayer:
God of All,
You created one faith in Jesus Christ,
But we express ourselves in many denominations.
As we gather together to accomplish the mighty task of ordering the life of the Church,
May we be mindful to the movement of your Holy Spirit,
The presence of the Son, Jesus Christ,
And the prophetic words of the Psalms glorifying the Father.
We are to come together and praise you, O God.
We must always first worship you,
Or we may fall prey to self worship and glorification.
Encourage and empower each and every one of us,
To use the gifts you have given to us.
They are a sacred trust which we hold for the purpose of blessing others.
When we make decisions, may they be with pure hearts and strong convictions,
That we do so for the glory of God.
Let us come together to be one Body,
Not simply a convention, a committee, a board,
But the Body of Christ redeemed by his Blood.
We give thanks that you are always with us, leading us,
Until Christ comes again to rule his church.