On Thursday, January 10, 2019 at Pittsburgh International Airport, I boarded a plane bound for Dallas/Fort Worth to participate in a January 11-12 meeting of the General Conference Committee on Reference. I served on the Committee during the 2016 General Conference in Portland, OR, and although the Committee does not normally meet outside a session of the General Conference, we were summoned in mid-December to reconvene in advance of the February 2019 special called session of General Conference. Our Committee had important work to do and we needed space to accomplish it beyond the time constraints we would face in St. Louis.
As the plane lifted into the air, I experienced a mixture of emotions. I was disappointed that I was not going to be in Pittsburgh that weekend to attend SPARK – I would miss all the fun of our annual Conference youth retreat, especially Karaoke night! I was apprehensive about being away from home as I was still processing the grief of losing my mother just two months earlier. Most of all, I was concerned that the work of the Committee on Reference would be soul-wrenching as Committee members would argue and build up walls of hostility as we faced our daunting task of determining which submitted pieces of legislation were “in harmony” with the purpose of the special called session of General Conference.
My return flight home three days later found me in a different spirit. I still regretted missing SPARK (and our meeting agenda did NOT include Karaoke singing!). And while a few moments of grief surfaced as I thought about my mother, I was comforted by kind friends who prayed with me during our meeting, understanding the pain such a loss brings to our hearts. But surprisingly, I did not experience any of the anticipated animosity or division that I had pre-supposed on the trip down. In fact, I came home from the meeting of the Committee on Reference feeling hopeful about the future of our United Methodist Church!
Here’s some reasons why I felt hopeful.
Even though we had only 30 days-notice for the meeting, 19 of the 24 members attended and every U.S. Jurisdiction and every Central Conference was represented. The level of participation reminded me that there are many General Conference delegates from around the globe committed to the deep work we are facing together. Every Committee member present had to give something up to attend the meeting – and they did so to further the work of the Church.
The Committee was able to lay aside personal differences in order to achieve the greater good. The Committee members understood what our task was and we stay focused on fulfilling that task. No one allowed personal agendas or opinions to affect the work we had been given. Even though a variety of theological perspectives were represented in the room, we united around the process and found our way together. The work was conducted with respect and integrity and honor, drawing us closer together rather than pulling us apart.
The meeting was saturated in prayer and worship and the tenor of our conversation was always faith-based. We began each day with a devotional time led by different members of the Committee. Each day from 2:23 pm to 2:27 pm (reflecting the dates of General Conference – 2/23/19 through 2/27/19), we stopped our work and shared in a devotional prayer time. As the Committee completed our work on Saturday afternoon, we ended with the Sacrament of Holy Communion, followed by sharing the peace of Christ with each other. We heard scripture, we sang, we prayed, we laughed, we cried – we opened ourselves up to the power of the Holy Spirit. While it was a “meeting,” it was sanctified time spent with brothers and sisters in Christ.
My outlook was changed during my experience in a hotel meeting room near the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. I left the meeting of the Committee on Reference feeling very different than when I arrived. Such an experience ignited a thought – perhaps the same can happen in St. Louis!
Maybe all the fear and apprehension and concern that most delegates – as well as the greater UM Church - are carrying with them will be transformed in the four days of the special called session of General Conference! Perhaps, by the grace of God – and maybe in spite of the fallible delegates who will cast their votes – a stronger UM Church will emerge and more disciples for Jesus will be made and our witness of faith will impact more lives around the globe.