as i sit in my parsonage (read: house for pastor) in new jersey, i have just finished watching the proceedings of the united methodist church's general conference in forth worth, texas. nearly one thousand voting clergy and laypeople representing the united methodist church from around the globe have convened this very day and i was able to sit in my own little corner of the world and watch it on my computer. for all its baggage, technology sure has some pretty cool litte tricks up its sleeve.
i love general conference. the general conference is the official body of the united methodist church. it is the only one with the authority to make any statements "on behalf of the united methodist church." and it only meets every four years. in 2004 it was in pittsburgh and i got to attend as a visitor. this year it is fort worth, so i'm watching from afar, from behind my monitor.
i feel like i should take a minute just to describe my love for general conference, if only because i would guess that most of my readers would not be able to identify with this affinity. maybe by reading you'll be able to verify your initial suspicions about me being insane.
i don't love polity. that is, i don't love studying polity. it tends to bore me. i'd much rather study theology. how the church is structured and who owns which assets and so forth is not my forte. however, seeing the church in action is deeply fascinating to me. i love watching a group of 1,000 people from around the globe doing business together. its like the united nations and the olympics and the house of representatives and a bunch of people who like to quote john wesley all mixed together.
the united methodist denomination, like any other mainline denomination of Christ's church, is a political animal. it is, don't forget, a human institution, or at least an institution made up of humans. and humans are fractured and selfish and manipulative and broken at our best. and so our church reflects that. when i was at g.c. in pittsburgh four years ago, the politics amazed me. to a certain extent it angered me. i felt like it was somehow wrong, like Jesus would want something so different than a bunch of people lobbying and politicking to get their way. and yet, even in the midst of the brokenness, i also saw the body of Christ, moving in faith, in worship, and in hope, towards a vision of a kingdom-future. i saw a group of people who call themselves united methodists making decisions about how best be a church who makes disciples for Jesus. i saw people choosing love over idealogy. and when i left pittsburgh four years ago i was convinced that, broken as it may be, i want to be a part of this thing. i want to be a part of its healing. i want to be a part of what moves it to ministry in a changing world. i want to be a voice of hope, of challenge, and of conviction, even if it is a voice of one calling in the wilderness.
i want to be a united methodist. not because i think it is a cool brand. or we have a nice logo. or good commercials on the weather channel. or because, apparently, our doors and hearts and minds are always open (which is most assuredly not true). i want to be a united methodist because i believe it is the place where God has called me to live a life a love and grace and hope. right here in the midst of a mainline denomination that some would say is dying and others would say is already dead. right here in the middle of an institutional church that some would argue has lost its relevance for an emerging generation. God has called me to this place; to these people; to this beautiful mess.
if you would like to learn more about general conference, check out the website. i'll be posting a couple of more times over the next couple of weeks about what is going on down there. you can also check out beth quick's blog as she is one of the delegates who may blog a bit while she's there. kurt, a delegate from washington d.c. is also blogging his experience here.