Preparing for the Unknown


By Rev. Elizabeth Ingram Schindler

We’ve been preparing for the special session of the General Conference, in one way or another, since the 2016 General Conference in Portland. We’ve had nearly three years to get ready, and yet I don’t feel completely prepared. How does one prepare for the unknown? How can we get ready when we don’t really know what will happen, how other delegates will engage the legislation, or what the outcome will be?

Friends, colleagues, and parishioners have been asking, more and more frequently as we near this month’s Special Session, how I’m getting ready and what they can do to be ready for the outcome of this General Conference. So I thought I’d share with you here a few notes on both accounts.

How is our delegation preparing?

Our delegation is preparing in every way we know how, including:

  1. Legislation: We have read and reviewed the legislation (you can access the ADCA here) individually and together, read and discussed various blog posts about legislation from numerous theological perspectives, and interviewed folks around our conference to find out their hopes, concerns, and priorities in regard to the legislation and the outcome of the conference.
  2. Conversation: We have spent considerable time getting to know each other, sharing our own theological perspectives, and asking difficult questions to help us each understand our motivations, experiences, relationships, and biases. Several of us have also challenged ourselves to have conversations with people on different parts of the theological spectrum, too, so that we can refrain from demonizing the “other” and understand more of each delegate’s point-of-view.
  3. Discernment: We are praying for wisdom and discernment, for the will of God to be made plain, and for God to guide our words and our actions. We are confident of God’s presence in our lives, in The United Methodist Church, and in the space of the General Conference, and seek to embrace that presence throughout our time as delegates.
  4. Repentance: In the final report of the Commission on the Way Forward, the group highlights a theological framework that includes “a convicted humility.” We understand the need for such humility in engaging this work, as well as the need to repent of the times that we have “spoken and acted as those seeking to win a fight rather than those called to discern the shape of faithfulness together.”
  5. Collaboration: Our delegation leaders have been collaborating with other delegations and with representatives from the Western Jurisdiction, and we have plans for collaboration throughout our time in St. Louis and beyond.
  6. Roles: Our delegation is small, but we each have a significant role on the team. Since we have only two delegates on the floor of General Conference, the rest of us will focus on logistics (wrangling the group and getting people where they need to go), material needs (copies, food, water, coffee), foreign language translation, communications, connections across the area and the jurisdiction, and spiritual grounding.

How can you prepare?

My advice for how individuals can prepare at home is similar to what we’ve been doing on the delegation, though perhaps you don’t need to pore over the minute details of the legislation as we are doing!

Still, you can educate yourself on the different options facing the general conference (check out the Greater Northwest Area’s Resource page here) so that you have an idea of what may be coming in the near future of our churches.

Have conversations with people who think differently than you do, trusting that they, like you, are trying to be faithful.

Pray for discernment, asking God for a clear path forward.

Repent of the times you’ve demonized folks with another point-of-view or wanted only to win, not to follow God’s lead.

Collaborate with others in your congregation and in neighboring churches to see how we can promote unity in the Body of Christ in this time of great division.

And play your part: ask what your role is in this season of the church. Perhaps you will be someone who understands the inner workings of our church governance and can explain things to the rest of your congregation; or maybe you’ll be a bridge-builder who can help people understand each other. Maybe your role will be to send encouraging notes to someone on the delegation, or to support that person’s family while they’re away; or to encourage and support your pastor during such a tumultuous time.

Whatever else you do, though, everyone can pray. Pray for our delegation, pray for our conference, pray for our clergy, pray for our churches. Pray for all the delegates and others at General Conference. Pray that God’s will be done. Pray for God’s love to shine through all we do. Pray for our witness to the world to be Christ-like.

And give thanks that no matter how well we discern and lead – or how badly we fail as an institution – God will never give up on us.

Rev. Elizabeth Ingram Schindler is a life-long United Methodist, currently serving the Issaquah/Sammamish area as lead pastor at Faith UMC. Elizabeth also serves on the Board of Directors for Wespath Benefits and Investments, the Board of Advisors at Seattle Pacific Seminary, and the Board of Ordained Ministry for the PNW Conference. She lives in Issaquah with her husband Steven and their two fabulous children. In her free time, she likes to read, hike, play guitar, and share meals with friends.

Elizabeth is a reserve delegate in 2016/2019 and was elected as head of the PNW Delegation for the 2020 General Conference.


  1. I rarely ask for prayers, but I’m asking now. Elizabeth urged us all to pray, and everyone on her list certainly is in need of support for the Special Session journey ahead. However, I was left off the list. All my LGBTQ siblings were left out. We will be the focus, the center of every discussion. Very few out LGBTQ delegates will be there with voice and vote. Scores of us will be listening, cringing, receiving a measure of spoken support, and also a painful measure of abuse. Your prayers, please.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Amory. I wish that I had pulled out a prayer for my LGBTQ siblings rather than just including them in “our churches” and “our clergy.” You’re absolutely right. Holding you close.

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