LIVING THE VISION
Most people who read the South Georgia Advocate are United Methodists. While we have our first allegiance to the Triune God, we have found ourselves at home with the United Methodist expression of the Christian faith. The readership ranges from those who “like” to those who “love” The United Methodist Church.
Today, I write about something significant to we United Methodists. The General Conference of The United Methodist Church will begin soon after this edition of the South Georgia Advocate reaches your mailbox. This 10-day conference meets once every four years with representatives from every United Methodist Annual Conference from around the world. It is quite something to behold.
South Georgia will have five clergy and five lay delegates to this conference. Several additional reserve delegates will attend to assist the primary delegates and to give each delegate some breaks during the 14-15-hour days. Please pray for God to give our delegates and reserves wisdom, stamina and an extra portion of the fruit of the Holy Spirit as they undertake this tremendous act of service.
What will happen at General Conference?
First, the global nature of the United Methodist Church will be made manifest under the roof of the Tampa Convention Center. More than one-fifth of the 988 delegates will come from outside the United States. Diversity will take on stunning expressions. Translators will work to build bridges so delegates from across the world can celebrate faith in Christ through worship, build relationships across the meeting tables, and learn what God is doing in every place.
Second, the fact that God is the common connection between all these delegates and the local churches from which they come will become quickly recognized. The mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world will be evident at every turn. Most delegates and participants will find spiritual encouragement as they hear the dynamic ways the Holy Spirit is at work globally through The United Methodist Church to form new disciples and nurture existing disciples and to grow a more Christlike world.
Third, delegates will struggle to steer this global, disciple-focused Church toward a more faithful and efficient path. Like many organizations, our global church structure has become larger than can be sustained financially. We have so many focal points and priorities that we have none to rally around. In the eyes of many, we are headed in every direction—with little direction.
Delegates will be presented recommendations that sound to some like an “Extreme Makeover” for The United Methodist Church. Alternatives will surface as various groups with competing values seek to hold a priority position. This will be difficult work for our delegates because our system is very complicated anyway, and because the legislation will come from 13 different legislative committees.
While there is some method to the madness, it is not too much unlike designing an elephant with 13 separate teams. Each team’s proposals will be voted on separately and then the whole is put together. Most will not know what we actually end up with until we read the Book of Discipline next January.
Fourth, a holy tension will fill the gathering as each delegate and participant simultaneously seek to reflect Jesus Christ and to be open to God. Difficult issues will surface quickly. Different opinions will be expressed fervently. Sincerely held views will be challenged within the privacy of each delegate’s own heart. Each will start from his or her home base of faith and understanding of Jesus Christ. Gentle and not so gentle persuasion will be attempted out of a genuine place of faith. It will be a difficult experience. For some it will be the dark night of wrestling. For others it will be a time of entrenchment.
I write these words without judgment and without a particular issue in mind. I could compile a highly charged list in seconds. The point I am seeking to make is that each delegate will be stretched spiritually in ways like never before: all the more reason to offer our prayers and to express our appreciation and support for each of them.
Finally, for those of us who observe or who anxiously await the outcome on a particular issue, let me urge you to remain calm as various news accounts come out of Tampa. The national media and some church media will focus on a particular issue and have its own slant on what is happening.
Your South Georgia Communications Team will be working to have a balanced presentation of information on the conference website (www.sgaumc.org). Most of the news will come out of the second week of conference when decisions are made in plenary sessions. Kara Witherow, the South Georgia Advocate Editor, and I will be on hand that week to report and update our website with important information. Kelly Roberson, a delegate and our Director of Communications, and others from our delegation, will use Facebook and Twitter to keep people posted with what it looks like from a delegate’s perspective.
So, we brace ourselves for this wonderfully global experience where people united in Jesus Christ embrace disciple formation and struggle together to discern God’s best intentions for the United Methodist movement. Stay tuned!
Dr. Brad Brady is the Assistant to the Bishop for Connectional Ministries.