Wednesday, April 25, 2012

General Conference, Days 1 and 2

Admittedly, this will not be one of my most creative blogs...but it you're a United Methodist geek, you may enjoy it nonetheless. Basically, it will simply be a log of my 5 days at General Conference 2012 - my FIRST General Conference. I'm ridiculously United Methodist, so I'm thrilled to have this opportunity. Thank you, Claremont School of Theology. :)

April 23, 2012
“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” – Mark 1:35

3:00 a.m. The alarm sounds, and like Jesus, we arose, while it was still dark. While I wouldn’t call the Ontario airport a desolate place, it wasn’t really hopping at 5:00 a.m. Our flight departed at 6:00, we had a layover in Dallas, then arrived safely in Tampa at 4:00 p.m. We were blessed with a safe journey and a FREE ride to our hotel. We arrived at the Hilton Garden Inn about 5:15, unpacked and relaxed until a group dinner at 7:15 at Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City. The weather was perfect and the 5 block walk to the restaurant on historic brick streets was leisurely, lovely and quite enjoyable. Ybor City is an historic area of Tampa with interesting and charming architecture that was once a celebrated location for cigars. We arrived back at the hotel about 9:00 p.m. with aspirations of studying, but little sleep, jet lag and travel culminated into an early lights out. Joyously, our 6:45 a.m. departure was moved to 9:00 a.m. and then to 10:45 – perfect for our first night/morning.

April 24, 2012
“…in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” – Acts 5:38-39

8:30 – wake up
9:00 – breakfast, met a delegate who called Claremont “the bastion of liberal thinking,” but then said he “Loved it!” – then a little New Testament Class conversation/studying with Brian and Melissa. Brian is much more in tune with Dr. Riley than I am, so this was VERY helpful.
10:00 – grooming, with great conversation about the day ahead of us with Monalisa & Melissa
10:45 – departure
11-12 – booths, free stuff, Cokesbury and beautiful Tampa – what a stunning location for a conference! I’ve never been a big Florida fan, but I’ve never been to Tampa before. It’s quite stunning.
12:15 – Orientation Session for Seminarians: Sixty to Seventy-five seminarians and professors gathered in the lower level of the Convention Center in rooms 20 and 21 and were welcomed by a guy. lol. Another pastor proclaimed that yesterday he experienced his “greatest day in ministry,” when he was able to deliver 2012 beautiful, hand-made blue silk mantles for every delegate, alternate, bishops, etc. The idea was born with a small team of people and grew and grew. With every increase in the number of mantles needed, Acts 5:38-39 was quoted. Each mantle has been prayed over so that each person wearing them knows he or she is covered in prayer as they discern over the next ten days. It was a beautiful story, and to see all of the delegates put them on during worship tonight was quite moving. “Covered in prayer, we are never alone.” 1:30-Lunch, pictures, making new friends
4:00-Worship! The highlight of the day was worship with thousands of Methodists from all over the globe. I loved all of the languages, the liturgical dance, the music and the preaching.

Marcus Briggs-Cloud, a member of the Maskoke Nation, consecrated the Conference in his native tongue, and taught us the word, “estongo,” which is a way of welcoming or greeting people in a more meaningful way. Then he welcomed us and asked us to be mindful of the footprint we leave on “colonial Florida” – the homeland of his people. He also asked us to remember our ancestors and the native people who are here now, living and breathing human beings. (He was also part of the worship band, playing several instruments.)

After music and the blessing of the conference, Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster, president of the Council of Bishops, invited us to hear Jesus’ call to “Follow.” He reminded us of the James and John leaving their father and their nets to follow. He said we gather every four years to mend and clean our nets, and he challenged us not to be so busy with “our” nets that we miss Jesus walking among us and asking us to follow. He said John Wesley’s introduction to the New Testament was that they forsook their employ…Happy are they that follow Christ at the first call. Immediately the disciples responded to Jesus – with relentless spontaneity, exuberant urgency, and extraordinary disruption. Jesus' call moves us from business as usual to boldness and urgency. Jesus transforms lives. John Wesley challenged Methodists to reform the continent, beginning with the church. Finally, one of my favorite parts of his sermon was his analogy about fishing. The first disciples were “net” fishing – pulling up EVERYTHING together. Too often we’re doing a different, specific kind of fishing for people who are like us, whoever that is. Jesus will show up while we’re mending our nets. Will we see him? Will we hear him? Will we notice?

All of the music was wonderful, but one of the most moving songs for me, was “God has Work for Us to Do.” Here are the lyrics:
Till all the jails are empty and all the bellies filled; 
Till no one hurts or steals or lies, and no more blood is spilled; 
God has work for us to do, God has work for us to do 
Believe in the promise, “I make all things new” 
God has work for us, work for us to do. 
Till age and race and gender no longer separate; 
Till pulpit, press, and politics are free of greed and hate:
In tenement and mansion, in factory, farm, and mill 
In board room and in billiard hall, in wards where time stands still, 
In classroom, church, and office, in shops or on the street; 
In every place where people thrive or starve or hide or meet: 
By sitting at a bedside to hold pale, trembling hands, 
By speaking for the powerless against unjust demands, 
By praying through our doing and singing through fear, 
By trusting that the seed we sow will bring God's harvest near.

Grace and Peace to all of you who stuck through this entry. :)