Pastor Mark's thoughts and impressions on General Conference
Many of you have been asking me about my impressions and thoughts about the 2016 General Conference and rumors about division, splits and unity. I thought that I would provide this response as a way to sum up the jumble of thoughts, and emotions I feel about the process, work and underlying priorities at General Conference:
There have been times in my involvement with the church (both local and global) when I have wanted to stand and cheer. Times when I have stood in awe and silence at God’s majesty, love and eminence. Times I have cried and times I have thought maybe it’s time to warm up that Monster.com resume. In general, I am not an “institutional” guy. My personality is such, that mechanisms of operation like Roberts Rules, and blanket over arching and rigid policies, sap my enthusiasm, wear on my emotions and feel foreign to the deeply personal faith and community that transformed my life. I have for most of my professional life viewed the work of our greater denomination as a “necessary evil” to allow me to serve the people in a local context and be an instrument in God’s hand to introduce people to a life changing journey of faith. That work… no that calling, as an ordained clergy person in the midst of relationships and community is wonderful and heart breaking all at the same time. I’ve sat in the back row of a sanctuary with someone in tears because they feel unworthy to partake in the elements of communion, only to discover love, forgiveness and transformation and freedom in that mysterious ritual. On the heels of such moments I’ve met with “church leaders” to “discuss” whether their pastor should wear a robe, suit and tie, or blue jeans! I’ve had people sit in my office asking “what do I get as a return for my investment?” before choosing to contribute to the life of the church financially, and had people who have broken the cycle of homlessness bring wadded up $20 bills, a product of a first paycheck, and say “God did so much for us through this church it seems only right that I would be faithful in giving back!” I guess that is why I have been so amazed by this year’s General Conference. Although I fully admit that, my personality is such that I shudder at the thought of grand institutional meetings, I am somewhat comforted in the fact that the entire connection of the United Methodist Church acts and argues… I mean discusses.. the same way the churches and communities I've served do. We have the now obligatory discussion over technology and its benefits and evils… we have discussions about how we serve the world and our neighborhoods, along side the discussion of how do we serve our “members” and most importantly what will it cost! (financially or otherwise.) We struggle over polity that seems to lock us into a continuing system of ineffectiveness, resign ourselves in the comfort that at least we know that system, and tremble at the thought of risking change. Were it not the fact that it is happening in Portland, with hundreds of delegates, 7 languages and a college of Bishops in attendance, the record of our 2016 General Conference could be the Charge Conference pastor’s report for any of the churches I have served in my 21 years as an ordained clergy person in the PNW Conf. Although there is some comfort in that reality, there is more than a little disappointment. It’s been my experience that there is always a person, or persons, who will want to divert any gathering, whether it be worship, committee meeting, charge conferences, annual conferences or general conferences, to the well worn path of highlighting how divided, we united people are, and how the work before us, whether it be worship or budget meetings is futile until we are united, (which in my experience has meant united in agreement with that person or persons). Rev. Mary Huycke, a friend and colleague who I admire and respect made a brief comment in a video report on her experience at GC in which she said “ There are many ways for us to be united.” I believe she is right! For a long time I have pictured the church as a piece of art. Some art I can engage with for hours, some quite frankly I “don’t get”. I can listen to Stevie Ray Vaughn play the guitar for hours, but I once volunteered to dispose of my nephew’s dirty diapers to get out of sitting through another minute of a fusion jazz concert in Ashland, Or. I can look at and get lost in Van Gough’s “Stary Stary Night” but squinting my eyes to see an airplane in a jumble of computer printed dots makes me cranky! I can see the art in a V-twin Ducati motorcycle, or in the razor scooter the first year welding student has modified to express their personality in that creation. I must admit that there are times when being united in our connection has felt like someone saying “how many trees are there going to be in your painting? Because we all know that 9 trees is the correct amount”. My prayer for our church, locally and internationally, is that we would be united in the hope, transformation, justice and sacrifice that I believe is found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That we could celebrate the amazing grace and love of God we experience, and others have experienced in this grand artistic journey of faith, and rejoice that we serve a God who desperately loves us and calls us to express that same love to all of God’s creation. To my friends at Manito UMC I am deeply grateful for your faith, your willingness to celebrate God’s transforming work in ALL of us, your willingness to take chances and continue on this journey of faith and discipleship that brings hope to us, our neighbors and our world.