Barbara and I are here in Tampa, all checked in and registered, poring through pounds of paper, reviewing notes on legislation and slogging through piles of reports and recommendations. General Conference is a Dickensian metaphor — the best of times, the worst of times. Gearing up for this GC, I think back to previous experiences — Baltimore in 84, Denver in 96, Cleveland in 00, and Pittsburgh in 04. Tampa means I have attended one GC in each jurisdiction — a clean sweep.
I have a theory that the sophomore GC is the very best, with the delegate knowing the ropes but still fresh and excited. It is amazing the cynicism and snarkiness one encounters with GC veterans. When I first attended (as a lay person, young adult from Indiana) I figured that General Conference was the gathering of the brightest and best the church has to offer. It didn’t take long to realize that it isn’t the best and brightest who come to GC, but it is definitely the most passionate. Everyone at GC loves the church and wants it to be great. The problem is that our visions of greatness differ so widely. Some want a great big church. Others want a great servant church. Some want a great exclusive church, while others seek a great inclusive church. Some want a great nineteenth century church while others hope for a great twenty-first century church. Some want a great liberal church while others fight for a great conservative church. Some want a church great at making members while others want a church great at making disciples (and some misguided goofs want a great church that confuses members with disciples…).
What has been consistently absent in my experience of General Conference has been a true spirit of collaboration — a sense that we are all in this together to create something wonderful, powerful and beautiful. At the very best, we settle for uneasy and unsatisfying compromise and concession. There are moments of wonderful insight and deep spirituality, but not so much movement toward creativity, innovation, and conciliation. A few toxic souls even feel the family of God in Christ called United Methodist isn’t worth much of anything, so they throw out the least creative or spiritual idea of all, called “amicable separation” in its most recent iteration. The path of least resistance is to walk away from those who disagree with you — what a fabulous witness to the world of the healing and reconciling power of God’s love in Jesus Christ and the ongoing guidance of God’s Holy Spirit!
Well, anyway, I will be blogging daily throughout GC — either here or for MFSA or for Ministry Matters or on the Wisconsin AC website (or who knows where else. In the next eleven days I know I will see the very best of the church, and also, sadly, I will see the very worst. But I also know that I will be spending the better part of two weeks with people who passionately love God and the church — even when they can hardly tolerate each other. What a wonderful and fertile field. If we could find a way to create beloved community here, I believe we could provide a model for beloved community anywhere. God already loves us — we are already beloved. Now if we can only love one another as well. This would make everything here worthwhile.