On Tuesday, January 19, United Methodists in the Western Pennsylvania Conference will take their turn in a 131-day prayer vigil for the denomination's 2016 General Conference (#UMCGC), which meets May 10-20, 2016 in Portland, Oregon.
The quadrennial legislative gathering, which sets policy for the denomination, begins on the 131st day of 2016 and there are 131 annual (regional) conferences in the UMC.
The Council of Bishops invited each of the annual conferences to host a 24-hour prayer effort on a specific date to create a groundswell of prayer in the days leading up to the General Conference. Each Conference develops its own format, but Upper Room Ministries compiled a packet of resources that included a 12/24-hour schedule developed for Western PA by the Rev. Chris Kindle, director of discipleship. Get GC2016 Prayer Vigil Resource Packet.
The Western PA resource lists specific annual conferences and GC2016 delegations to be prayed for at specific times. "If it is used twice over a 24-hour period, it ensures that no conference or group of delegates gets what some might consider a bad time on the schedule -- a time when not as many people may be praying," Kindle explained. "For example, those who will be prayed for between midnight and 1 a.m. will also be prayed for between noon and 1 p.m." Download the WPAUMC Prayer Guide.
"Beyond offering the guide and the Upper Room resources, we're leaving it up to individuals and churches to decide how they will be involved in this 24-hour prayer effort," he added.
The Oregon-Idaho Conference, which includes Portland, kicked off the 131 days of prayer on New Year's Eve. Bishop Grant Hagiya, who oversees the Greater Northwest area participated, praying in the last 15 minutes of 2015. He described it in a blog post as a very powerful experience. In addition to praying for those organizing the event, the delegates and Bishops, he said:
"I prayed for a transforming General Conference, and in the midst of my prayer, I received the gift of a vision. Now, it wasn’t a dramatic vision with choirs of angels and cherubim, but a vision from God nonetheless. What if, God said, there was a General Conference where argumentation and advocacy to one’s personal biases were set aside, and we all pulled together to work on some major life-transforming initiatives? What if the mission of God became so overpoweringly compelling, that our own theological and social disagreements disappeared, and we worked together to forge a new future? "
After listing some possibilities, Bishop Hagiya added, "I am well aware of the realities of our differences and the human sinfulness that all of us possess, impeding upon the visions that God has in store for us. However, we all need to stop and imagine what our church can be if we set aside our differences and pull together to work on the central mission that God has set before us.
"May all of us be filled with God’s vision of what can happen at General Conference. More importantly, may we be committed to allow such visions come to pass."
As the spiritual leaders of The United Methodist Church, the Council of Bishops conceived the plan for a prayer vigil as a meaningful way to focus spiritually on the experience, as well as to surround the delegates and church leaders with prayer for a General Conference that inspires us in our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.