General Conference Briefings Blog: April 24, 2024

by | Apr 24, 2024 | General Conference Briefing, Pastor's Blog

It was a beautiful and positive start to the proceedings of the international gathering of The United Methodist Church called the General Conference. This is my first experience attending a General Conference, so I didn’t completely know what to expect. Sure, I knew there would be petitions, voting, and worship, but I didn’t expect to be so moved by the opening of this gathering. 

There are people from across the United States, throughout the continent of Africa, and some parts of Europe and Asia. I have heard several languages, witnessed colorful clothing, and seen the beautiful diversity of the people of God on display at this gathering. It’s a beautiful sight to witness and even more so as we gathered for worship.

Opening Worship

Opening worship included many beautiful reflections of our United Methodist tradition. From traditional hymns, a brass band, gospel music, praise and worship songs, and Holy Communion, we experienced the beauty you find in congregations across the globe. Bishop Thomas Bickerton, the outgoing president of the Council of Bishops, preached a powerful sermon to the worldwide church. He encouraged us to follow how God is calling us forward with hope, optimism, and our eyes set on Jesus.  

Bishop Bickerton asked, “Are you willing to move forward in a spirit of hope and embrace a season of reformation, commit to the revitalization of The United Methodist Church, and work for a culture marked by compassion, courage, and companionship?” I appreciated his words of hope along with his moments of honesty. He lamented, as so many of us do, that the church has failed at times. He was honest about the struggles we have faced the past few years culturally from political and ideological division to the pandemic, but also how we have failed as a church to combat racism, sexism, and exclusion. I also appreciated his challenge to not blame others or be brought down by anger, anxiety, and fear. 

The most powerful moment of worship for me was when we said the Lord’s Prayer together in one voice, but many languages during the liturgy of Holy Communion. Several bishops gathered at the altar table, some from Africa, one from the Philippines, and the others from the United States and we were invited to say the Lord’s Prayer together in our native language. It was beautiful to feel the spirit of the words we were saying together but in many languages. There was a beautiful Spirit in the room that we all felt at that moment. In fact, it was the Spirit that we felt as we sang in one voice, prayed together, and received Holy Communion. 

A Hopeful Start

Even as we started the “business” of General Conference in our opening plenary session, the temperature in the room was positive and refreshing. This was reflected in our adoption of the rules of the conference in a fairly quick manner with a few amendments. While this might not seem like a big deal, I’ve heard that at other General Conference gatherings, it took almost a full day to agree on the rules. It seems like a good start. 

Overall, there seems to be a renewed hope that we will be a different denomination going forward, a people centered on the love of God in Jesus Christ, seeking justice, welcoming all, and moving ahead with unity. It’s been a positive start and I am hopeful as we continue the work tomorrow and look to begin work in the 14 legislative committees. 

I hope to offer a blog post every few days from General Conference. Please continue to pray for all of us gathered here in Charlotte, NC, as I continue to pray for my Castleton family back home and our ministry together in Indianapolis. In fact, after the morning session and lunch, I actually took a phone interview with a local newspaper covering our housing forums. The work of ministry locally and globally continues and I’m thankful to be part of it all.