By Kristina Gonzalez
May 16, 2016 | Portland, Oregon
I am a General Conference junky. I admit it. This is my fifth General Conference. I attended in 2000 as a reserve delegate, 2004 as a delegate, 2008 as a member of the denominational Connectional Table, and 2012 as a monitor on behalf of racial/ethnic concerns. I love reconnecting with our United Methodist network, bumping – sometimes literally – into the many excellent leaders I’ve been privileged to meet over the years.
The 2016 General Conference is different for me. I am more on the edges, supporting our PNW Conference gatherings and vigils, volunteering for the host committee, and providing intercultural competency training in support of the Love Your Neighbor Coalition. While I have an ear to legislation, and passion for full inclusion, I am, I admit, relieved to be a bit outside of the debate. Inside, I witness the very tactics that confuse, delay and essentially paralyze our highest levels of government in the USA; but at the edges, I witness beauty.
Kathryn Jones Harrison, an elder from the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, was the first voice to welcome the General Conference to the ancestral lands of her people. With her were American Indian and Alaska Native United Methodists from the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area, witnessing to the presence of tribal peoples among us, and to the history of the land that we often take for granted. At the edges, Duane Medicine Crow stood vigil at the exhibit of Native American artwork and history, engaging people as they wandered through, answering questions and offering connection.
The Climate Vigil attracted Methodists and non-Methodists alike to pause over the beautiful lanterns made by so many of you. Stories of the impact of climate change around the world brought tears to our eyes, as we heard of the loss of mother and children to floods as father and siblings watched, unable to prevent their drowning. We heard of the plight of farmers in areas of new drought, as their ability to feed their families and their livelihoods evaporated. We heard the challenge to wonder about our own consumption.
In a meal with our friends from the Congo, Nyota Claudine Kasono, the first college graduate of Jamaa Letu Girls’ Orphanage in Lubumbashi, told her story, and again, tears. Bishop Kainda Katembo of the Southern Zaire Episcopal Area, spoke about the uniqueness of the PNW Conference in maintaining and supporting Jamaa Letu Girls’ and Boys’ Orphanages over the long term, and we witnessed a formal continuation of our relationship. What a blessings to share food and fellowship with our sibling conference!
The social hall at Vancouver First UMC was full to overflowing as we supported the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists in welcoming delegates and visitors from the Philippines with food and fellowship. A true Pentecost moment!
These are but a few of the gatherings of ethnic caucuses, theological schools, coalitions and groups that offer Christ to one another at the edges.
Pray for the edges.
- For gatherings that offer peace and welcome, at the edges.
- For those that raise justice issues, on the edges.
- For the excluded on the edges, and for those that extend their hands in welcome and peace.
Pray for the edges. That’s where Jesus stood.
Kristina Gonzalez is the Director of Leadership Development for an Inclusive Church of the Pacific Northwest Conference.