Participants sing during the opening worship of the 2012 United Methodist General Conference held in Tampa, Fla. A UMNS photo by Kathleen Barry.
General Conference 2012: it’s here, and it’s with us for the next 10 days – or is it 10 years? 10 decades? Forever? General Conference is hugely important, someone even went so far as to describe it as the most important Methodist gathering. But as it starts, I find myself with mixed emotions about it, and pondering its relevance even. So now that I have your attention, let me explain.
I do want to be clear that I find General Conference to be an extremely exciting time. We gather, as United Methodists, once every four years, as a global church. Almost a thousand delegates and thousands of others from all over the world come together, representing the millions who call themselves United Methodists. It is a time to celebrate the ministry that is happening across the globe, a time for use to reflect on how this church is living out God’s call, a time for fellowship, a time to strengthen our connection. And for all that, it is indeed an exciting time.
Even with all that excitement, and even while knowing that some of the stories of ministry happening around the world may (strangely?) warm our hearts, I still wonder about the relevance of General Conference to local ministry settings. On the one hand, decisions made at General Conference will affect every local congregation in some way, but on the other hand, will those decisions really have an impact on local churches, ministries, individual United Methodists, and, just as importantly, the people we seek to be in ministry to and with?
I started pondering that question on Monday as I began preparing for another week serving in youth ministry. I was thinking that it would be cool to do something about General Conference on Sunday at Youth Group. But then I started to wonder, would the group of 11 to 17 year olds I am in ministry with really care? How is it relative to their faith journey? Beyond just the youth, how are the decisions at General Conference really going to affect the 80-something year old woman who faithfully ushers every Sunday? Or the young man who just joined our church because it was a congregation where he finally found Christians living the faith he believed in?
Yes, there are some concrete ways in which General Conference can affect every United Methodist, but I think this question of relevance is part of the very important question about what it really means to be a global church. How do we realize the realities of our global connection? How does that reality change what we believe, how we practice, how we go about ministry, how we make disciples, and how we transform the world?
So I suppose that’s my challenge to all of us participating in, or following General Conference. Think about, and try to answer these questions, especially as votes happen, decisions are made, and, later on, as delegates return home. And while you’re thinking about these questions, take time to be in conversation with God, and with each other.