Words. Words! SO MANY WORDS!
As General Conference 2016 begins, I am drowning in words! The Advanced Daily Christian Advocate arrived by mail several weeks ago in five bound volumes containing 1475 pages. My legislative section – Ministry & Higher Education and Superintendency – will act on more than 225 pieces of legislation. I’ve received dozens of letters and emails (even a few books and DVDs) advocating for or against particular petitions. And General Conference-related news stories and blog posts appear on my screen almost by the minute.
I’m usually a word person, but amidst the swirling barrage of words, it’s hard to imagine that I have any worth adding! Nonetheless, here are my thoughts as our Western PA delegation made its way to Portland:
- Thanks for your prayers. I know many in WPA have joined their prayers with others around the world as 2016 General Conference approached. But today I’m especially grateful for the ways that you have expressed your prayer for us personally. I’m reminded that we go as part of a family of United Methodists in Western Pennsylvania. Our minds are filled with many things – from family we leave behind to travel anxieties to the heavy responsibility of the work we do. Thank you, in the midst of it all, for sustaining us through your prayers and support.
- Please be kind…those are my friends you are talking about. One of the greatest gifts of my life is friendship with people across our United Methodist connection. I’ve served under appointment in two Annual Conferences (WPA and Northern Illinois), lived in and attended churches in two others (Susquehanna and Kentucky), and met dear friends from around the world while serving on connectional committees. Each of those friends have their own stories and their own gifts and graces for ministry. They also represent many different theological perspectives, sometimes polar opposites from one another. Lately I’ve read and heard many labels for “those people.” In nearly every case, “those people” include a face and a name for me. I may not agree with them on everything, but I love them. They are my friends. I know them to be deeply committed Christian people. I’ve seen the fruit of the Spirit in their lives and in yours. I’ve been challenged and encouraged by you both. You are both dear to me. It breaks my heart to hear (or read!) the way you speak of each other sometimes. Please be kind.
- Hope with me. There is much anxiety surrounding the weighty issues that General Conference 2016 will consider. Fear sometimes dominates our conversations and our thoughts. But I am reminded in Scripture that our God is the One who provides manna in the wilderness, breathes new breath into dry bones, and brings life out of death. Let’s hold on to the hope that God is doing a new thing in our midst!
- “Replant grace.” I recently heard this little phrase in the midst of a podcast by Father Richard Rohr, and it struck a chord deep in my soul. In the midst of a fallen world, God continually “replants grace.” When fear or anger tramples us down, God replants grace. When disappointment or frustration wears us thin, God replants grace. When life is hard and relationships hurt, God replants grace. What a gift! When we come out on the other side of this General Conference, there will be some decisions we celebrate and some we mourn. My prayer is that my heart would remain soft enough for seeds of grace to be replanted in me, and that I would in turn be about the work of replanting grace in my relationships with others. Would you join me in that?