Each day has a theme, and I will try to put that theme as the title of the day’s blog.
I began the day hearing speakers for seminary students, but the whole conference began the day with a short worship. The short worship was nice, but as it ended we sang "Christ the Lord is Risen Today." It occured to me that, even though I am not a huge fan of the timing of General Conference, it is great to meet during the season of Easter. I was then amused to hear the bishop who was speaking speak about the term Eastertide. I suppose we were supposed to have the reaction that I did when we sang "Christ the Lord is Risen today." Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
In the late afternoon I was bad and skipped the session, not wanting to hear more amendments to the rules. Honestly, it is not the most interesting part of conference. Instead I went to Cokesbury and went robe shopping for myself and my friends at seminary. Cheap robes are a blessing for those of us trying to build our pastoral collection. I did hear later that after two sessions of amendments, questions, and debates, the rules passed as they were originally proposed yesterday. Go figure.
During the lunch hour, about 20-30 of us gathered outside by the river to celebrate Communion together. Bishop Schnase officiated for us. It was a beautiful short service written by a woman who realized there was no communion service based on the theme of being at the lakeshore. It is also nice to take a break from a day of legislation and pointless amendments to remember why we are here. I will definitely be returning to the communion service tomorrow afternoon. I am a little surprised though that so few people showed up from the thousands of people in Tampa.
After lunch we gathered into legislative groups so that the elections may take place for the leadership within the group. I observed the session on Ministry and Higher Education. After several reminders by the bishop that we need to be inclusive, the votes took place. I tell you, these elections are almost as tedious as a session of the elections for general conference delegates! On the plus side, as we waited for each vote to be counted we sang old mostly well-known hymns and songs. It was a nice reminder that in the midst of the elections we are to remain in prayer.
After the legislative group session, the next thing on the agenda was Christian Conferencing. Since we had a few minutes to kill, I wandered down to the lounge set up for Young Delegates. Nobody else is allowed inside except by consensus of all those within the room. It is intended to be a safe space. So, I wandered in, had some conversation, and determined that it would probably not be worth much to go to the conversations, because I am not a delegate and it will likely be taking place in small groups. It is difficult to observe small groups from the back of the room. Then somebody came in and asked if we would allow them to bring others in and watch Glee (from last night). So I stuck around and watched Glee with a large group of young women (the young men laughed at us).
As dinner approached, I was invited to bring my dinner and eat with a particular organization. Because it doesn’t really matter what this organization was, I will refer to it as UMO. Realize that this organization could be yours. It could be UMW, UMM, UMYF, a group of Sunday School teachers, a particular United Methodist Church, a caucus group, or more. You may be able to figure out which group it is based on some of the things I say, but it doesn’t really matter. As you read my story insert whatever church group you belong to, especially if it has very few young people and wants them.
So, I was invited to dinner. I thought, “well, why not,” and I went to join them. The person speaking to them was the president of UMO. After she spoke, another woman spoke. This woman started to speak about how important it is that the young people stay involved in UMO. The sharks were circling. Then, looking straight at me (there were probably 8 people eating lunch down here and I was the only young stranger) she starts talking to me about how important it is to stay involved in UMO. Then the sharks started to bump up against me a bit. She asks me if I am involved in UMO. I say that I am not, and I explain that when I was at home, most UMO events met during the day on a weekday. In recent years, they have started to reach out to young people, but I am now in a different state at Seminary. In an effort to salvage myself a little, I explain that my sister and godson’s mom are both getting involved in UMO. Then, the sharks swam in and started to attack. “You know all pastors become members of UMO when they are ordained.” “You can have a group at seminary.” “It doesn’t take a formal group with a President to have a UMO group, you just need to do fellowship.” “You know, I have read so many books through our reading program that I never would have read before. It is so easy to use. Here is where it is in your church and how it works.” And on and on. They do a lot of great things, but very little is something I need or want at this point in my life. Finally, as I sit there wondering why on earth I would want to add a reading list of church books when I am already in school, I decide to voice this. I interrupt and explain that the books aren’t really interesting, since I am in school. Really, it is the mission aspects of UMO that are appealing. They then asked if I had ever attended their mission retreat, explained that often churches will help those who cannot pay for it to get the money, and that it has a ton of wonderful aspects. Finally, the conversation shifted away from me and we were told that UMO will meet to eat every lunch and dinner and have an evening prayer at the end of each day. I have not yet decided if I will go back. 1) It is rather scary to be attacked by sharks wanting my flesh…I mean wanting my participation in a group. It might be effective in driving me away. BUT 2) I have a strong urge to go back a few times so that I gain their trust enough to tell them how bad that introduction was. They had the best of intentions. They genuinely wanted me to get involved, get the connections and to benefit from what they have to offer. This inundating me with information and not listening to what I am interested in, however was not the way to do it. The scary part is that I have done this also. Honestly, if this is how we approach young people for organizations within the church, I worry about how we approach those outside the church. EEK!!
We should take this as a lesson! Listen before inundating with activities! This does not mean ignoring or not inviting them to something. It does mean slowing down, giving a couple ideas and asking if anything sounds interesting without pressure. I want to hear their stories! I want to know why this is important to them! I just don’t want to hear it all at once, and I want to hear why this should be important to me. A 24-year-old student who reads plenty of books and has plenty of friends for fellowship. Why should I join the UMO? For that matter, why should a 24-year-old grad student with plenty of friends who is already a member of a social club join a church? What do we have to offer? Why does this make a difference? Until we answer these questions AND act on them, not on what we think is interesting about the social opportunities, we cannot expect to see change.
Now let me be clear. I love the people in this organization and others. It is a great and important organization that does a lot of great work for our church. It was just a little frightening to experience exactly the same thing that is happening to every young person who walks in the doors of an older congregation.
This evening consisted of a plenary session with the Call to Action Report and a Finance report. Honestly, finances are boring. The Call to Action report is rather frightening regarding the future of the United States UMC, but I have read and heard all those facts and figures so many times, even given by one of the presenters, that none of it was truly new. We ended the day with an hour long worship that was rather amazing, and actually better than the opening worship of the General Conference.
In a paraphrase of tonight’s bishop who preached…Beautiful people, INVITE! Make disciples!