My travels here to St. Louis did not go as planned. In fact, one might say they went dreadfully wrong. Right after I checked in to the first airport and made my way through security, I discovered my flight had been delayed, and I would miss my connection. I waited patiently in line to make new flight plans. I stood there and smiled, willing myself to embody hope and the intention to take this hick-up in stride. While smiling, the young woman in front of me turned around and struck up a conversation. We joked, laughed, and wished each other luck when her turn came first. We departed, her heading to meet her boyfriend in Denver for a vacation skiing in the mountains, and me heading to meet my fellow Methodists for a work conference in St. Louis.
The airline staff were able to make a shift for me, but now I would have a four hour layover in Charlotte, and not arrive until almost midnight in St. Louis. I smiled, thanked her, and remained committed to taking all of this as part of the journey. I finally got on my first flight, and the steward came up to me and asked if he could take a picture of my furry, pink moon boots. “Sure,” I laughed. It started a conversation with my previously silent neighbor, and she and I enjoyed the hour we had together.
Then I found a perfect little place to enjoy some food and wait out my layover in the Charlotte airport. I sat at the bar, and made three more friends. Laughing, getting to know one another, and wishing each other the best of luck with our remaining travel, I felt better about being waylaid. Then I headed to my gate to make my final flight to the temporary Methodist Mecca of St. Louis. Once on board my flight, my next neighbor and I struck up a conversation and managed to chat away an hour before I discovered to my surprise that one of my Methodist family was on the same flight. Lori and I once worked at the same church. We have had lots of laughs, heartaches, and celebrations together over the years. Suddenly Methodism made this world much smaller, more intimate, and manageable. We hugged, promised to carpool to our hotels, and laughed at the irony of being on the same flight.
That is when it occurred to me: Methodism is not just another Christian denomination. It’s a blessing, a gift that makes this world brighter. It makes friends out of strangers, and family out of friends. It lets me adopt an outlook of thriving when I would otherwise barely survive the trials and tribulations that come my way in the course of living. Methodism has given me an identity: I am a beloved child of God, of sacred worth, forgiven, loved, and free. That is what makes it possible for me to smile when others frown, be nice when others yell in anger, make friends when others withdraw, and keep going when other give in, give up, and go home. Methodism makes me better, and that makes it possible for me to do what Methodists do: strive to make this world better for others.
This is what is at stake over the next four days. We cannot let Methodism suffer because we are frail, fallible, and fraught with discord. We cannot allow our differences become the wedge that breaks such a beautiful manifestation of holy community, God’s grace, and what is means to see the world as a blessing rather than a burden. I realized just how much Methodism makes me who I am, makes me better than I was before, and will make me better still in the days ahead. This flawed, imperfect denomination is just that: flawed and imperfect, but it is mine, and millions of other Methodists’. If we commit to it as it has been committed to us and generations of other Methodists across time and the globe, then it will bless others for generations to come. Perhaps we are here to recommit ourselves. Maybe God has allowed of this to happen so that it culminates in us recognizing how much we love Methodism, and how much it has loved us into the disciples we are today.
St. Louis may not be Mount Sinai, the holy site where God and the people of Israel made covenant with each other, but it is here on the banks of mighty Mississippi River, the closest the United States has to a holy river, like the River Jordan in the Promised Land. Not all of the tribes were willing to cross the river and enter into a new phase in the relational journey God invited them to travel. Those that crossed over discovered that there were still trials and tribulations. There was still sin and mistakes. There was never going to be a perfect nation, but a perfectly loved people of God. I do not know what God has waiting on the other side of river, but I know that God will make a path for us to traverse, dry land where we are safe from the waters of chaos. This has been God’s way, and I suspect God’s will all along.
So today I am hopeful, because I know how much I am willing to fight, strive, and commit to the United Methodist Church, and I know that some of the best Methodists the denomination has to offer are here, not just in person, but through prayer. We can only rise above our differences with the help of God. It will not be human design, but God’s that will show us how to continue the journey of the people called Methodists. May our prayers be for God to do what God has done in the Scriptures, in Church history, and promises to do now and in the days ahead: “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still” (Exodus 14:14). Let us stand still, firm in our commitment to God and one another in this glorious Church of Methodism.