For me, General Conference 2016 began years ago in a discussion with a former pastor. He was reflectingon the challenges facing the United Methodist Church, and he patiently led me through history and painted a picture of the importance of this quadrennial meeting. He set my feet on the path to Portland back in 2013. It’s a grand culmination to finally be here, standing amid brothers and sisters from around the world, rubbing elbows with people I’ve only read about online. I’m trying to not act like a geeky fangirl. Hopefully they will forgive me my enthusiasm, but I’ve turned my name badge backwards so they can’t see it. Just in case.
In the years and months approaching this gathering, I’ve deliberately inundated myself with blogs and Tweets and Facebook posts from people who take different stances than myself. Whether on the hottest button of all (i.e. homesexuality) or on less polarizing issues such as divestments or vacation days or language corrections, I want to know how my siblings think. I want to calmly and deliberately consider their opinions, pray for them, love them. Rarely, very rarely, I even answer them, but mostly I try not to; I only want to listen.
It’s been educational to listen to the positions, but it’s been heartbreakingly hard to listen to the anger, snideness, derision. I don’t think this is exclusive to people on either side of the typical liberal/conservative dichotomy. Rather, I tend to find people always say their side isn’t as bad as the other. Always. Whichever side.
With this history in mind, I came to General Conference afraid I would feel the disdain and tension I’d read in text. Thus far, though, I am reminded instead of our “connexion” and I’ve found only friendly faces, hopeful people. I see written prayers for the Holy Spirit to be with us and for peace to fall upon all of us. It’s day one, and even though they forgot to appoint someone to lead the first-timer session, I can still believe we aren’t headed toward disaster. I can still believe the sausage will taste good, and what goes into it won’t be too terrible.
It’s GC2016. The opening plenary is about to begin. Peace be with you.