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  • Writer's pictureConnor Prusha

Becoming Who God Needs Us to Be - The Journey has Just Begun

Despite a mandatory inspection from the fire marshall, General Conference began yesterday without many bumps. Delegates and observers alike were filled with hope, anxiety, fear, peace and every other emotion imaginable. My own worries were amplified entering the plenary floor due to reports of the infighting, insults and anger that had been so commonplace during General Conferences of years past. In all honesty, I feared the worst. Yet, right away, I knew this would be a different space.


Photo Credits: UM News


Bishop Bickerton, current President of the Council of Bishops, asked us in his opening sermon, "Do you want to be in this room?" He grieved with us the painful divorce of disaffiliation and separation from beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, but called us to embrace a spirit of hope. It was a reminder that as United Methodists, we are believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Triune God and so much more. Nobody can tell us that we don't embrace the core doctrines and creeds of the Christian faith, and nobody is going to get in the way of us living out God's call for The United Methodist Church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.


Our day continued as we worked to find our seats (I have to count regularly to ensure I'm in the right place!) as we quickly oriented ourselves to the processes before us. One of the blessings of our church is that we are truly a worldwide denomination, with delegates from all over the U.S., Europe, Africa and the Philippines. As such, we bring multiple languages that enrich the experience of holy conferencing. An incredible group of translators work hard to ensure simultaneous translation into all official languages of the church including English, French, Portuguese, Russian, Kiswahili, and several others. Allowing delegates to speak in a language most comfortable to them but still be heard and understood is a powerful way to build connection and relationships.


We continued on in the day, approving our rules with a few amendments, hearing some reports from administrative committees, and learning about the credentialing processes. Unfortunately, over 100 delegates, mostly from the central conferences (areas outside the U.S.), have yet to be seated due to a multitude of issues (i.e., denied visas, difficulties with scheduling visa appointments, missing contact info, travel arrangement problems). As such, we adopted a resolution acknowledging and grieving this loss of representation and committing to do better in the future. We solicited a report from the Secretary of General Conference to provide full transparency on the entire process from identification to credentialing and the issues that were encountered along the way. At the same time, we acknowledged that this General Conference is legitimate and that we will work together to create a positive future for our denomination. It passed with broad support from delegates around the church.


Photo Credits: UM News


Today, we moved into a new space of hope and visioning as we heard the Episcopal Address delivered by Bishop L. Jonathan Holston of South Carolina. We were reminded that, despite all of the elections, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, mass shootings and all other things - good and bad - that have occured since we last gathered in 2016, we continued to follow God's call to be the hands and feet of Christ in service to the world. Sharing examples of incredible and transformative ministries, Bishop Holston reminded us that we can be who God is calling us to be. "There’s a reason that rearview mirror is so much smaller than the windshield itself," Holston said. "We are only meant to glance backward. We are meant to fix our gaze ahead, following where Christ leads."


Photo Credits: UM News


Perhaps my favorite part of the day came shortly after during the young people's address. The speakers, Alejandra Salemi and Senesie T.A. Rogers, expressed extreme insight, intelligence, prophetic witness and vulnerability as they highlighted the experiences of young people in the church over the last eight years. Salemi equated the current state of The UMC to a messy divorce, the burden of which has been placed primarily on local churches and young people. Even so, and despite the anxiety that has come with such uncertainty, we were reminded that even when we don't have enough hope, our neighbor will have enough to cover for us and carry us on. On another day, we do the same for our neighbors. Rogers shared that although separation has seemingly become a tradition within the Methodist movement, reunification and reconciliation have been just as important. We must find a way forward together in love and grace.


We later heard reports regarding worldwide regionalization, hearing from leaders across our connection that there must be mutual trust between and among the regions of the church. United Methodists in Africa are the mission experts for their context. They don't need the U.S. to tell them what to do. United Methodists in the Philippines know what their communities need the most. They don't need Europe to tell them how to serve. Delegates were encouraged to support petitions that would put all parts of the church on equal footing with the ability to adapt key parts of the Book of Discipline so that we might be more effective in, and contextual with, our mission and ministry.


Delegates also received a report on the denominational budget. Despite a proposed 42% reduction - perhaps the largest single reduction in denominational history - we have the opportunity to revision, think creatively and find new ways of doing ministry. Some changes to the budget may come later this week, but the work of restarting and reviving our mission and ministry won't be done in a legislative forum. Instead, it will be accomplished in conversations and discernment among clergy and laity in local churches around the world as we seek to create a more relevant and compelling vision for what The UMC can be.


We ended the day by splitting into legislative committees and electing our officers. Fellow East Ohio General Conference Delegate, Rev. Andy Call, already posted a great piece explaining the legislative process for General Conference. I serve on the Financial Administration legislative committee, so we deal with all matters relating to the general church budget, clergy health and retirement benefits, many petitions related to the General Council on Finance and Administration and others that have financial implications for our denomination. The work is dense and time-consuming, yet highly important and enriching.


As I sit here this evening, taking in all all that has happened, I remain in awe of the way God is working through us and this broken but beautiful church. Despite disaffiliation, harmful language, interference by interest groups and vilification on all sides, Christ is not done with us or our beloved United Methodist Church. Bishop Holston was blunt, saying that, "we fall short. Yet even in our shortcomings as imperfect humans, we strive for who we want to be — holding before us the vision of God’s kingdom built, the hope of Christ fulfilled, as we move toward that vision with courage. All of this because we know that God prevails — the victory has already been won in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ."


No matter where we have been or where we are going, Christ has redeemed and sanctified us. We are beloved children of God and we have been called to go out into the world, casting the net far and wide to bring all to the banquet table of life, love, hope, mercy and grace. We are not perfect. We fall short. But, God has prevailed. The future of The UMC is still uncertain, and there seems to be a narrative of fearful scarcity arising. Our initial reaction may be to fret, strategize, organize and legislate when resources slim. But maybe, just maybe, the still small voice of God is calling us to "be still and know that I am God."


So, tonight and for the rest of these two weeks, I choose to be still. To be slow to speak and quick to listen. To open my mind and heart with wonder, curiosity and genuine compassion. The church of today, the one I always imagined serving as I continue this journey to ordination, continues to shift and evolve with the call of the Spirit. It may even require the death of certain practices, institutional structures and more so we can go and be who God wants us to be. Let's go!



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