Understanding context and presence is a crucial part of critical thought and comment, it is important for me to say I am not now, nor have I ever had the opportunity to visit either as delegate or observer our General Conference of The United Methodist Church. That being said, perception from one on the outside looking in from afar is also important, for there are far more in this position than actually in place in Tampa, Florida as I write.
It is hard to describe my feelings tonight as I sit in my living room wide awake at 1:56am, awakened by what I am not sure, other than this ache down deep in my heart and soul that will not let me go. I am weary, angry, heartsick, disappointed, frustrated, or sad I really cannot put my finger on it exactly, but it is there and has welled up within me until I can no longer be silent.
I have watched live streaming video on my computer via the internet, read news feeds from various organizations present at General Conference, read tweets, tweeted myself, watched Facebook posts, and have posted a few comments as well. I have prayed each day for our delegates¸ the General Conference, and our church as a whole. And as I peer through the window of technology and word, here is what I have seen.
I have seen a church that seems more intent on establishing rules than hearing the voices of the people it serves. I have seen a church more willing to discuss, re-discuss, and once again to establish a new structure than to embrace one another in love and understanding. I have seen a church more interested in limiting time to discuss legislation than taking the time to hear all of the legislation submitted especially from the least of these. I have seen a church take steps backward in its support of women, not only in standing in solidarity with an organization that promotes women’s health but structuring a General Conference in terms of presiding bishops and preachers for worship where our women leaders seem to have been more of an afterthought than considered a leading force in our church. I have seen a church more interested in the status quo than stepping out of its comfort zone with faith and trust. I have seen a church that has agreed that it cannot even agree it disagrees on the issue of homosexuality, which is no longer just frustrating but should be highly offensive and a continued slap in the face to ALL persons of Sacred Worth! I have seen a church in denial of the idea we can continue to turn people away from our churches, from ordination, from full participation and expect it to grow. I have seen a church more interested in numbers than in the lives of those who are hurting and searching for a place where they can simply be who God created them to be. I have seen a church that expects me, an ordained clergy, to serve the church and the people fully, faithfully, and lovingly, and then tell me I cannot serve them fully if they happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. I have seen a church that does incredibly sacred work for the cause of the Christ all over the world, and yet seems so caught up in a fear of change it has forgotten how to love fully, justly, kindly, and humbly.
Exactly how accurate these perceptions are will be borne out after the last word at General Conference, but they are honest perceptions from one who has tried to follow along from some 1300 miles away. These are my perceptions from the yard trying to see in through the stained glass windows of the church, my church, the church I have been a part of for the last fifty three years, the church I love. And I must admit I am having trouble seeing the church I dream of, a church of grace, compassion, mercy, and love. A dear friend of mine wrote a verse for me on the occasion of my ordination, “Kent, on this your joyous day never forget to check outside the church doors to see who may have been left in the yard.” As this General Conference moves toward its close the end of this week, I fear the doors will be shut once again for four more years with too many standing in the yard trying to see through the windows, trying to get in the door, left in the yard by a church too afraid.
As weary as I am I want to thank the delegates and participants for their time and hard work they put in at General Conference. It is an enormous task to take on and to be gone for so long. I acknowledge that many of the issues I have cited are systemic issues and the wheels of change grind slowly and often inefficiently. Thank you for your faithfulness and work on our behalf.
As weary as I am I have not, nor will I give up until all God’s children are fully welcome in our, in God’s United Methodist Church. And one day, justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-stream. One day…may it hasten on to this day.