Thursday, April 24, 2008

General Conference- April 24

General Conference got underway yesterday, most of the day being devoted to orientation and organization, so there was not much in the way of controversial issues being discussed. The legislative committees begin their work this evening, so we will begin to get a sense of how this GC will play out.

Two notable things about yesterday were aspects of the opening worship. The communion table, and many of the other furnishings and elements used during the worship, were crafted from elements taken from areas that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Since the General Conference is taking place in Ft. Worth, they are only a few hundred miles from areas that are still struggling to recover, their efforts remaining sorely underfunded. I hope this will be a reminder to the General Conference that one of the most important things we do as a denomination, and one of the things we seem to be best at, is mobilizing our resources to help clean up after disasters. As a denomination we have way too much bureaucracy and red tape, but the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is very good at getting resources where they need to be in a timely manner.

The other notable thing about yesterday was Bishop Huie's opening sermon, where she preached on the theme of Resurrection Hope. The past several GCs have been admittedly divisive, so those in charge of planning this year's GC put a lot of energy into encouraging the delegates to remain open, loving, and hopeful. One line from Bishop Huie's sermon interested/amused me: 

"Hope has become a 'marshmallow word'. It sounds soft. It looks sweet and appealing. Get it close to the fire, and hope melts off the stick and drips on the ground. ... Resurrection hope transforms lives and changes the future. Tonight, through us, the people of The United Methodist Church gather around this table filled with resurrection hope."

The line amused me because Bishop Huie is making a not so subtle reference to Barack Obama's frequent use of the word "hope". Perhaps she's a Hilary or McCain fan. But more likely she is preaching the very real truth that some words tend to lose their meaning when they get used a lot. Christians gather not with a general sense of hope, but with a hope that is grounded in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

A lot of people, myself included, approach this General Conference with a bit of dread because of the divisiveness and negativity that has come before it. But that does not necessarily mean that this GC will be the same. If the Resurrection, and the hope that it gives us, shows us anything, it is that what has come before does not define what will come in the future. With God all things are possible- even getting one thousand people from all over the world to set aside their partisan agendas and work together to build a better future for the United Methodist Church.

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