This week there was a presentation celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the dissolution of the Central Jurisdiction of the Methodist Church. When I saw that on the agenda, I thought it was odd--why would we celebrate something's end? Then I learned that the Central Jurisdiction was the Methodist Church's way of segregating the African-American churches from the white churches. What?!? There was segregation INSIDE the Methodist Church? I guess I was naive. It kind of blew my mind that the church that raised me to love and forgive and do the right thing would separate people in this way. But the good news is that we turned ourselves around, and that definitely is a reason to celebrate. My hope is that we will (as a church and as individuals) be open to changes that will continue to be necessary as we seek to show Jesus' love to the world in the most effective way.
One thing that's become really apparent at this General Conference is that there are a lot the growing pains associated with becoming a world-wide church. Several petitions have been put forward about funding international programs and about how a global UMC should look.
I have been in sessions where US delegates have come to the microphone to argue about fine points about rules of order, and I look at the delegations from places in Africa, for example, where war and hunger and disease are constant everyday struggles, and I wonder if they must think we are arrogant and unconcerned.
The UMC is growing in Africa and in the Phillippines; the UMC is losing members in the United States.
In legislative committees, I saw the struggle that the English speakers had when making speeches and needed to slow down to allow for the interpreters to have time to translate to the non-English speaking delegates. Although it's hard to get used to making changes in the way things are done, I could tell that most of them genuinely wanted to do better.
I have really enjoyed hearing prayers in other languages during the worship services. It's amazing to me when a non-English speaking delegate gets up to give an opinion to the entire General Conference--that takes a lot of courage.
I have met some great people here, including friends of some of our friends from home! I have met seminary buddies of Nick Keeney and Jon Buxton and Beth Jones, and I met a friend of Ed and Betty Lou Furman's from Zimbabwe. I have really enjoyed talking with lots of different people--a fellow page from the Phillippines who's serving a church in California and hopes one day to serve in Guam, a Portuguese interpreter who told me that sometimes his brain gets squeezed when he's translating, a marshal who used to be a special education teacher and ended up adopting one of her students when she retired. Our church has some amazing, wonderful people. I am glad for the opportunity to see outside my small experience.