I plan to share reflections each day of General Conference…
After some small difficulty in getting here, our group arrived in St. Louis this afternoon and were able to settle into our hotel. We ran into Methodists everywhere we went. This morning we saw current members and former members of our church at the Mobile Regional Airport. From Dallas to St. Louis we met several fellow Methodist pastors on their way to GC2019 as well, including the former Associate Pastor of Christ United, Dr. Jim Kinder! Rev. Jean Tippit and I toured the Gateway Arch and behind us in line were some members of the Florida Annual Conference who I’ve met before. As we finally found the UMC entrance to the gargantuan America’s Center, we were suddenly surrounded by Methodists. In some ways General Conference (even a special session) is a little like a global family reunion. It’s one of the few places that United Methodists get a real chance to visit with their friends or make new friends in other geographic areas of the church.
I know that the stakes are high for this General Conference. The denomination that helped raise and rear me and so many others is at a critical point, and people who love her from all over the world have different ideas about what she needs to be or become. For the most part, like the vast majority of the UMC, General Conference is filled with people who are loving and kind, and want what they believe is best. We’re very aware of our differences, and deeply committed to our convictions. As a result, coming to this could feel like going to battle, but then you remember that the people on the other side are our brothers and sisters in Christ. One of my favorite songs when I was growing up was Sting’s “I Hope the Russians Love Their Children Too.” I spent more than a little bit of time worrying about the destruction of the world through nuclear war. This was just part of growing up in the 80’s before the end of the Cold War. I listened to the 45 of that song over and over until I convinced myself that there was no way the Russians would blow up the world…they love their children too. There’s chance that a lot of damage and hurt could be done to the church and others this week. I hope, that whatever side we may find ourselves on, we’ll remember that each side loves their church too.
Tonight our group met up with someone else from our Conference and we went to the delicious barbecue place right next to the convention center called Sugarfire Smoke House. There were obviously lots of Methodist people in the restaurant and volleyball tournament families (the other big convention in town). While waiting in line we saw that Dr. Jeff Greenway (former president of Asbury Seminary when I was there) and Rev. Keith Boyette were there enjoying the amazing barbecue. Jeff and Keith are two key leaders of the Wesleyan Covenant Association who are advocating for a traditional understanding of Christianity when it comes to human sexuality. As we were finishing up our meal, after Greenway and Boyette had left, we heard a commotion near the door. A group of people were clapping for someone walking in the door of the restaurant. I looked over and saw that it was Bishop Karen Oliveto, whose election to the office of Bishop in 2016 created great controversy because she was openly gay. One of my friends leaned over to me and said, “I guess we agree on barbecue.” This moment of levity reminded me of our common humanity no matter which side of this issue you are on.