Sunday afternoon I went on an adventure around Portland. It was a wonderful afternoon. You can see several pictures of my adventures to a hardware store, a bookstore, a cupcake shop, and more on social media. This has really been my only chance to explore the city, but it was fantastic.
Monday marked our first day in all day legislative plenaries. This week has been a series of ups and downs in terms of process, trust, and conversation. Tuesday morning, I woke up to a flurry of social media-fueled rumors that the Council of Bishops would be proposing a split for our denomination that morning. Upon arriving at the convention center, the new president of the Council addressed the General Conference. Bishop Ough confirmed that those conversations had indeed taken place, but that the Council was not planning to make a move in that direction and was there to simply preside. Bishop Ough is correct in his understanding of the role of bishops during General Conference, but the day had just begun.
Over the course of the day, Rev. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of the largest church in the UMC, pleaded with the Council of Bishops to help us, to lead, so that we might have a way forward. This motion passed the General Conference, and the Council was charged with preparing something for the following day. This is unprecedented. A General Conference has never in history asked for the Council of Bishops to weigh in on legislation.
Wednesday morning was filled with anxious thoughts and feelings. I was sitting on the floor on Wednesday morning, and I could sense the delegates eager anticipation of a word from their bishops. The bishops were conspicuously absent from worship that morning, and they trickled in just moments before the opening plenary prayer. Bishop Ough addressed the General Conference, while the Council of Bishops stood in support behind him.
Their suggestion was to suspend the conversations surrounding human sexuality, to allow them to create a commission that would consider this issue and a way forward, and to potentially hold a special called General Conference in 2-3 years concerning this issue. Following this announcement, the General Conference went on a break. All over the facility delegations began to meet to consider how they would respond. When the break was over, the presiding bishop called for conversation. He asked the delegations to mix up, to sit with people of opposing views, and to talk about how the issue of human sexuality has touched their lives. Why do you believe what you believe about this issue?
I was nervous. I watched as delegations hesitated to split up. I watched as LBGTQ people nervously sat with members of the African delegations. I watched as the bishops moved into the crowd and began pacing and praying. I was nervous.
But the Holy Spirit showed up.
Maybe everyone did not experience this, but it was the first time in the whole Conference where I thought important stories and hard truths were being shared. There were tears from people on both sides of the issue. My friend Katie says that when you can’t contain your tears, that’s just the Holy Spirit leaking out of your eyes and your nose. I was convinced of that truth in those moments.
The rest of the day was a roller coaster of legislation, passed and failed. Eventually the Council of Bishops’ proposal was adopted by a very narrow margin. This has the potential to move the UMC beyond these conversations. It was a relief to at least do something. It has moved this General Conference forward, so that they can consider other petitions.
I continue to pray for General Conference as we close tomorrow. I pray for the Council of Bishops as they move forward with the commission. I pray for the United Methodist Church that we would always keep our disciple-making mission in front of us.
Again, I am so glad to be here, to witness and to learn from the proceedings, but friends, I am tired and pretty ready to be back with you all. See you soon!