Deja vu, all over again. Informally polling people on their feelings about launching into week 2 of General Conference, I am encountering a great deal of ambivalence, frustration, and a “here we go again” vibe. Expectations are very low, fear and anxiety very high, and a wariness that we may leave this Friday not much further along than when we arrived. Three quotes:
“I am bummed. Look at this room (plenary area). There is so much potential. There is so much deep caring for the church. There is sincerity in people’s love of God. What is wrong with us? Why is it this way? How on earth can you bring together this much knowledge, talent and faith and consistently come up with such dismal results?”
“We are naïve if we think we are going to change anything. The agents opposing change are better organized than those trying to lead us somewhere better. I don’t hear people talking about how to get things done. I hear people talking about how to keep other people from getting things done.”
“I think God withdrew his Spirit when we voted down Rule 44. I came here opposed to Rule 44, because I misunderstood it. Our delegation head explained it in a very biased, very poor way. I grew hopeful when I heard we were going to talk with each other instead of at or over each other. When the will of the body was to actively silence the majority of individual voices, I lost heart.”
These are valid opinions, but not the best energy with which to launch into week 2. Individual disappointments aside, I think we will make some progress. I think we are already seeing it in some ways. As I said before, many from our African conferences have found their voice. I was heartened to see an African delegate stand up to a man from our South Central Jurisdiction and say, “No! That is not what we believe. No. We will vote for our people, and we do not need to be told how. We know what we are doing. We do not need your help.” He was forceful, but kind; firm, but decent. It made my heart glad!
I have been deeply impressed by the decorum of the last few days. It was dicey at the beginning, with many people acting out their frustration. But under the pressure and urgency of legislative deadlines, people mostly kept their cool in my committee, and we pulled together through some difficult work. It feels good to be proud of our process accomplishments, even though the outcomes might not have been as pleasing.
Week 2 of General Conference is demanding, exhausting, and at times infuriating, but it is also the week we get to celebrate so many of the victories, successes, and effective ministries of our denomination. It is a time for some excitement and joy. In the quagmire of doing things poorly, it is so important that we be reminded of all the things we do really well as The United Methodist Church. And the underlying message of our celebrations is critically important: none of them were accomplished by individuals. Every one of our major successes has been synergistic — people pulling together in a way that we accomplish things we could never do alone. This is a week to be reminded that we need each other. Theological differences? Less important than our life together. Moral disagreements. Pale in comparison to the impact we make together. Varying interpretations of scripture. Less important than where we agree and act. This is the week where, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we will remember how much we need each other. Cool.