A note from Rev. Diane about the General Conference of The United Methodist Church:
This week we pray for the 2016 General Conference of The United Methodist Church. This global gathering of United Methodists is meeting May 10-20, 2016. General Conference is held every four years (dating back to the 18th century!). This General Conference will be held in Portland, Oregon; its location rotates among regions (“jurisdictions”) in the United States --- beginning in eight years, it will begin rotate among regions of the world!
General Conference gathers for worship and legislation. Lifelong friendships can be formed, and the connections that are made across geographic lines greatly enrich the church. (I speak from personal experience: I am a better pastor—and a better Christian—as a result of relationships formed in the general church).
At General Conference, the very best and the very worst aspects of the church are on display. The General Conference is the only body that is able to speak for The United Methodist Church, so debates can become contentious when revising the Book of Discipline (the guidebook/rulebook for our shared United Methodist way of life). This year the church will hopefully use a process of holy conversation about difficult topics as well as the more traditional use of modified Robert’s Rules. I am happy to answer any questions you may have about the legislative process—I have previously served as a monitor for racial and gender equity at General Conference, so I have seen this process first-hand.
Some issues facing General Conference 2016 are:
Improving the way that contentious issues are discussed
Clarifying a global Book of Discipline that applies to all areas of the denomination
Establishing modified regional autonomy
Modifying ordination processes to align with ecumenical partnerships
Adding “gender” as a protected clause in the United Methodist constitution
Adapting to declining membership/finances in the U.S. while protecting women and people of color in the appointment process
Adapting to alternative forms of ministry preparation while continuing to value seminary education (Masters of Divinity)
Repenting of racism against indigenous peoples
Clarifying stances on creation care, abortion, divestment, disabilities, religious freedom, sexual ethics, immigration, predatory lending, and more
The issue that will receive the most coverage in the national news will be LGBTQ equality. The groups that are advocating for LGBTQ equality are called the “Love Your Neighbor” coalition (which includes the Reconciling Ministries Network). I encourage you to read this commentary by former University UMC pastor Rev. Dr. Tom Frank on “Why Excluding LGBTQ People Makes Bad Church Law.”
LGBTQ inclusion is near to the hearts of many people at University UMC, and I want to reiterate my availability over the next few weeks as a prayer and processing partner for you. Whatever happens on the global level of the United Methodist Church, you always have a home here in this local congregation. At University UMC, God invites ALL people to “Be You, Be Loved, and Belong.”
We pray this prayer in conjunction with the Love Your Neighbor coalition:
God of our future,
We give thanks to you that in Christ Jesus you issue an eternal invitation to join you at the great Welcome Table where All people are nourished with bread, with wine, and with justice.
At this table, Holy One, you build a new community without distinction and without division where the vulnerable and the outcast are mystically joined to Christ. Since we have been raised with him, through the power of the resurrection, grant us strength and confidence for the coming days and transform us into Christ’s resurrected body that we may be a new community where all your people have a home.
As the General Conference approaches, O God, remind us that you have already settled this matter—that justice has conquered oppression, that life has conquered death, and that love has conquered fear.
Help us to claim this promise, to live in Biblical Obedience, and to joyfully proclaim your victory through Jesus Christ who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, God for ever and ever.
Finally, I ask for your prayer for my family members who will be participating in General Conference 2016. My mother, Judi Kenaston, is the chairperson of the Commission on General Conference, which plans and prepares the gathering. This is a role in which it is impossible to please anyone— so please pray for her to remain a calm, non-anxious presence in the midst of a high anxiety denomination! Pray also for my father (a marshall at General Conference) and my brother (a voting reserve). You can follow the Kenaston family blog as well!
If you would like to follow General Conference, you can watch the livestream. It is always fun to have the livestream open on one screen, while you have your twitter feed set to follow the general conference hashtag (#umcgc). In slower-time, you can also read the news at the UMC's General Conference page or their Facebook feed.