There is nothing more Biblical than looking back over our journey and paying heed to how far we have come, what we have overcome, and where we started. Last night, I started out by getting the final things together for my trip to St. Louis, and more specifically, Called General Conference of the United Methodist Church. It began as a practical endeavor. I opened my luggage and looked over the carefully packed outfits, supplies, and necessities. Then I started to get my carry-on bag in order, and that is the precise moment when things shifted. I grabbed some of the gifts I have been given for this journey: a blinged out notebook and matching pen, a hand woven bracelet, a picture frame with my son’s picture, and a set of markers for making visual statements on poster board I will purchase when I am in St. Louis. Each one is a thoughtful gift, but also a talisman of the giver, a small piece of them embodied in their thoughtfulness for me.
I was caught unaware by this wave of sadness that washed over me, even as I smiled at the precious artifacts in my hands. I was getting ready to leave on an airplane that would take me to a city where a pivotal moment in United Methodist history would occur. I am excited to be there in person. I am anxious about what may happen. I am hopeful that God will make a miracle for my beloved denomination. I mourn that we Methodists find ourselves at this place where we know that hearts will be broken, fractures may become permanent, and some will choose to walk away from our family of faith. The reality of a Body of Christ comprised of human beings is that no matter what we do, someone is upset. Someone will leave. That is not a statement about this issue of human sexuality and inclusion, or even how we have handled it to this point, but the reality of living in community, even a Christ-centered one.
I have been planning this pilgrimage since it was announced after the 2016 General Conference. I knew that I would need to be there, to see with my own eyes, hear with my own ears, and experience with my person the atmosphere of spirituality or its lack thereof. United Methodism has a concept of Holy Conferencing, when the Body of Christ gathers to be in prayerful discernment together, not just individual discernment while sharing same space. We believe that the Holy Spirit moves in a unique and powerful way when we come together to seek God’s will and word for us in this manner. I have seen it before. I have been part of it since becoming clergy. I know that it has a distinctive feel from any other gathering, meeting, or governing body. We have to engage and work at it, but there is nothing so powerful as God guiding one of the largest denominations in Christendom. I want to testify that it did occur.
So here I am, all packed and plans confirmed, and there remains so much prayer to be done. Countless Methodists, and I suspect Christians from outside our formal membership covenant, are praying about this gathering. I hope we are not praying for our desire, our wish, our way, but God’s will. I hope we recognize that human will is powerful and can be manifested by our sheer willpower. Perhaps that too reflects the divine image in which we were all created (Genesis 1:26). Yet the challenge is to set aside our will, and create space first in our being, and then in the Church for God’s will to overshadow our own. That is what I envision happening when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and she became the bearer of the Christ-child (Luke 1:35). If we, as the United Methodist Church, are to bear Christ to the world with our unique and vital theology of grace, then we must be willing to be overshadowed, so that God may be fully embodied. That is the hard part, but no less necessary.
Last night, after checking all my packing one more time, I unpacked the one thing I do not need: my will. It was so heavy and burdensome. I did not realize how much so until I set it aside. Then there was all this room for the truly important and Godly things! I had all this room for hope for the future, openness to receiving God’s word, assurance of God’s providence, and the peace that no matter what does or does not happen at Called General Conference, nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). Now I am truly ready to journey to a place where my brothers and sisters of Methodism will converge from all over the world, and seek God’s will and way together. Now all my planning, packing, and praying have culminated in a heart ready for anything, because God is once more my everything.