Today is the day when I depart for Called General Conference. I am leaving the place I have been calling home for the past two and half years since I was appointed to Crozet United Methodist Church. I am leaving my family, my pets, my home, and my church to be with my people, my other people. All my bags are packed. I am ready to go. Soon I will be leaving on a jet plane. Yet I know when I am coming back again: the day after the close of Called General Conference. It will be a six day journey, and one where I will not be with my church for Sunday worship. That in and of itself is a huge sacrifice. One that never sits well with me. I want to be with my church for worship. Perhaps deep down I recognize that I need to be for my own well being. So today has me mindful that come Sunday, I will be missing them, and that means that prayer will be our connection over this distance.
I will have some time today before, during, and in between flights to stop and pray. I have been praying continually for many months now about this epic meeting of Methodists. Over the course of the next four days, our legislative body of over eight hundred delegates from all over the world, half laity and half clergy, will bear the heavy burden of making a decision about how the United Methodist Church will handle human sexuality and inclusion. After decades of pleas, requests, demands, protests, arguments, motions, and questions, the legislative body of the global church is ready to call the question. Thousands of other Methodists will be crashing the Conference, like me. We have no vote, and technically no voice to be heard from the floor. What we do have is presence and prayer.
In our current context of social media in the digital age, the concept of no voice seems outrageous. How can one be voiceless when there are so many platforms, websites, and apps not just allowing, but inviting and encouraging our voice? Even if we were rendered mute in real life, our written and typed voice can scream volumes about our perspective, our view, our opinion, and our thoughts on any and every topic. Yet in this instance, it is not our voice that the Church and the world need to hear. It is the Word of God. The struggle for every individual Christian and every denomination in the Church Universal is to discern God’s Word so that we can know and follow God’s will.
Now more than ever our lives are filled with sounds, noise, music, words, commentary, reports, etc. It may be making it harder to hear God above the cacophony. Hearing God is not about silence, but intentionality. We are repeatedly called through the Scriptures to hear God. The deeper we journey into our personal spirituality, the more we discover that hearing God hinges upon engaging God. Our relationship with our Lord enables us to not only hear God, but understand what God is saying. God’s grace is what enables us to fulfill God’s will. We cannot do this on our own, not as individual disciples or as a denomination. The Father created us together (Genesis 1:26-28). The Son called us together (Matthew 18:19-20). The Holy Spirit holds us together (Ephesians 4:1-6). Trinitarian theology is about being united, in the Godhead, in the Church, and in each person’s mind, body, and spirit.
The glory of the Gospel is that it tells us that God’s love has made grace available to us through Christ Jesus. Grace becomes the glue of holy community. It binds us, bonds us, and brings us together when our own humanity threatens to tear us apart. It speaks, through the Holy Spirit, in sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26). Perhaps that is where the power of presence and prayer is revealed. My most profound prayers have remained unspoken; so deep, so raw, and so personal that they could not have been uttered out loud. My prayers for my beloved United Methodist Church are no less poignant if they are not heard by another person, written out, or read by others. My presence is no less important, if I am not an official delegate. I am an official member of the United Methodist Church. I am an officially ordained Elder, clergy person of the Virginia Annual Conference. It is not just my voice, but my ministry of presence that marks my place in the Body of Christ. This journey is about that aspect of my Methodism.
Whether you will be in St. Louis or not, you are no less present through the miraculous power of prayer and the uniting power of the Holy Spirit to bridge gaps between people and geographical distance. The Apostle Paul testified to this power in his second letter to the Church in Corinth: “as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:11). “The blessing granted through the prayers of many” is precisely what the delegates and presiding bishops at Called General Conference need of each and every one of us. Prayers to unite, uphold, console, encourage, and yearn towards God’s will being done in and through the United Methodist Church. So here is what I am praying throughout the day:
God of All,
We lift our prayers to you, in union with myriads of others.
Bonded together by our love of you, commitment to our Church, and hope for tomorrow,
We entrust ourselves into your hands.
Let your will be done in us, that your purpose will be revealed through us.
Guide us in this time of restlessness.
Heal the wounds we have made against others, and those made against us.
Perfect us by your love, that our love and service will be perfect for others.
Lead us to one another, so that we may journey forward into your Kingdom together.
You are our hope and stay, all else is fleeting and sinking sand.
May we trust you, hear you, and follow you.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we pray.