Sorry this is rather late today, Reader; I’m in the middle of Annual Conference, which is kind of the United Methodist equivalent of a state senate session. Delegates from all over my state gather together for a handful of days to worship together, to work through legislation together (we are a human organization, after all; it might be nice to say we should just live in harmony, but those of us who have read Lord of the Flies know that doesn’t quite work out on its own), and to be the Church together—in all the ups and downs that entails.
And it has its ups and downs. There are many ups. We had fabulous worship this morning, complete with some slam poetry psalms that made me ache to write such power myself and an address by the bishop that ended in her singing my dead grandfather’s favorite hymn—double trouble, in terms of emotional connection. We were challenged (wonderfully!) to step outside of our worship comfort zones, to truly be present in praise, and it fed my soul when I didn’t even realize how hungry I was. In the afternoon, we had fabulous worship of a totally different kind, working into my denomination’s recent commitment to repentance and reconciliation in regards to indigenous peoples and the part the Church has played in their genocide. Powerful stories were told, the stories that only get sideline paragraphs in U.S. history books because we as the “greatest nation on earth” don’t want to see the ways that we lied and stole and broke ourselves and others in climbing to the top; we don’t want to acknowledge that we cannot be perfect, that we are not nothing if we are not first, best, spotless. We as a conference committed ourselves to going back for that one sheep, that one tribe, that one person we have left out on the margins because we cannot do anything else if we are truly claiming Christ’s example.
And there have been downs: the anger and tension over the General Conference (global, every-four-years gathering; kind of a UN summit meeting for the United Methodist Church, in a way) decisions and lack of decisions simmer under everything. There are some pastors and laity—“right” and “left” in terms of polity—who continue to push rhetoric and motions that needlessly jab at those who do not agree, who continue to demand words that wound in the name of clarity and accountability. Truly, Reader, these piss me off. I don’t care whether you’re left, right, or center; I don’t care how angry you are about whether the Church is or is not doing what you are so sure is right. To shove people’s faces and spirits in language and rules which don’t bring demonstrable change but do highlight how right and godly you are and how wrong and prejudiced “they” are is just selfish. We skitter, in some ways, on the edge of schism—not because the vast majority of the UMC wants to split but because those at the extreme ends keep pushing their opponents’ buttons like four-year-old children cruelly searching for the breaking point.
Conference is exhausting; perhaps it is more so this year, coming off of being in a wedding last weekend and having another wedding in the middle of things this weekend and dealing with work and transition in and through. Conference is exhausting because it’s one long networking session: this, barring serious changes, will be the conference to which I return after I finish seminary, so these are my future colleagues and bosses and employees and congregation members. These are the people with whom I will serve on committees, to whom I will turn when I need a hand in my church. Conference is exhausting because I wear uneasily the mantle of my future career even while I am at present a lay representative. Conference is exhausting because it’s non-stop, and my introvert self needs a day off.
Yet, crazily, I do not regret taking time off of my paying job to do this work. I believe from the bottoms of my feet that it matters, even on the days when I sit in a meeting listening to people question whether or not parliamentary rules allow someone to make that kind of motion now or if it has to be introduced by a separate action. I don’t know why Crazy Little Thing popped into my head earlier today, but I’m running with it. No, I don’t advocate attempting to be in a romantic relationship with the Church (for one thing, Valentine’s Day is going to be disappointing every year), but that sense of not really understanding but going for it anyway is totally applicable. Conference—Church administration in general—is weird and inexplicable and tiring and yet something that (for some) is also energizing and fascinating.
And is sometimes something you need to leave for a while, get on your motorbike and get away from until you’re ready. I’m glad of having another wedding this weekend to break up Conference for me because I, too, am not totally in love with what the Church is doing to itself at the moment. I am frustrated with what we’re not saying, with the assumptions we’re making, with the petty skirmishes of power and elevation that distract us from our purpose as God’s people to be light to the world. Yet after the ride, after shaking off the frustration in the humid summer night air, I still pray that all of us can return to our seats the next day willing to look at what we do and see it to the glory of God.
And may we be brave enough to call ourselves out if it is not. What a crazy thought.
Some people came down from Judea teaching the family of believers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom we’ve received from Moses, you can’t be saved.” Paul and Barnabas took sides against these Judeans and argued strongly against their position. The church at Antioch appointed Paul, Barnabas, and several others from Antioch to go up to Jerusalem to set this question before the apostles and the elders. The church sent this delegation on their way. (Acts 15:1-4a, CEB)