By Rev. Shannon Blosser
ST. LOUIS –
The long-awaited special General Conference began Saturday – not with legislative committees or discussions on rules, but with an intentional time of prayer.
Coordinated by the Praying the Way Forward initiative, the session was an intentional time of prayer and reflection upon the needs of the world as General Conference gathered into session. It was the final act of the Praying Our Way Forward initiative, which sought to surround General Conference and its work in prayer in the months leading up to the called session. Bishops Debra Wallace-Padgett and Al Gwinn were among those who helped organize the day.
“The Lord is surely in this place,” Gwinn said as the day concluded. “We are grateful for His presence.”
Organizers hoped that the day of prayer would set the tone for the work before General Conference. Delegates have assembled in St. Louis for only the second called General Conference in the history of The United Methodist Church. They are to receive and work through a report from the Commission on a Way Forward regarding the church’s beliefs on human sexuality.
“We trust that the Holy Spirit will move us closer to what needs to be done here,” said Bishop Gary Mueller of the Arkansas Episcopal Area.
The prayer focus offered a worshipful beginning to what has long been expected to be a tense gathering. Delegates were encouraged, at various points, to pray with each other, visit prayer stations, and fast during lunch.
“Sometimes we don’t have enough faith to love one another,” Bishop Peggy Johnson, of the Peninsula-Delaware and Eastern Pennsylvania annual conferences, said during one of the opening prayers.
Bishops representing the entire church focused on the specific places where God is working in their parts of the world, while also focusing on the missional needs their churches currently face. Among the leaders of the session included Kentucky Bishop Leonard Fairley who, along with Bishop Minerva Carcano of the San Francisco area, led the prayer time for the United States.
During Fairley’s remarks, he spoke of the places where the church gives thanks to God. These areas include New Church Development, Fresh Expressions, keeping the main thing the main thing, UMCOR, mission work teams, and ministry with young people.
“God has lavished extravagant gifts upon us calling forth a joy that is inexpressible and full of joy,” Fairley said. “The gifts we share are lived out before us every day in the hearts, souls, and service of ordinary people through who God has and will continue to do extraordinary things.”
Carcano brought forth the concerns of the United States. Poverty, lack of education, immigration, and gun violence were among the concerns she raised with the delegates.
“As people of Christian faith, we know that God our creator has provided enough for all to live in abundance, if we will but share the bounty of God’s Earth,” Carcano said.
Other challenges were brought before the delegates to General Conference. Bishops from Europe and Eurasia addressed the challenges the church faces in Russia because of external pressures. Human rights violations and migration are a concern for those in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.
Fairley reminded the delegation that these are not truly challenges, but opportunities for the church to be about the work of God in these areas.
“We believe God is able,” Fairley said. “We believe we are not a people without hope.”
As the session took time to pray for the global church, it also took a moment to pray for members of the LGBTQ community in St. Louis for General Conference and for those around the world. While the time of prayer was ongoing, members and allies of the LGBTQ community brought out rainbow flags on the floor and in the stands. Several delegates approached the groups to offer hugs and other expressions of grace.
“We come as United Methodist followers of Jesus Christ from around the world,” said Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett as she introduced the time of prayer for the LGBTQ community. “Each of us is a child of the God of the universe.”
While the prayer time was ongoing, the work of the General Conference stood at the forefront. This was especially the case as Rev. Gary Graves, secretary of General Conference, announced that the Council of Bishops had requested a declaratory judgment from the Judicial Council regarding two petitions.
The petitions relate to proposals that are part of the Modified Traditional Plan. One petition seeks to create a special committee on investigations for the Council of Bishops. The other, authored by Rev. Maxie Dunnam, a clergy delegate from the Kentucky Annual Conference, aims to create a global episcopacy committee.
Delegates are scheduled to rank the petitions Sunday, by order of preferences. This will determine the order the 78 petitions before General Conference that will be heard when the entire body gathers as a legislative committee on Monday.
Rev. Shannon Blosser is the pastor of Ogden Memorial United Methodist Church in Princeton. He also serves on the Kentucky Annual Conference’s Communications Team.
To view more photos from Saturday, February 23rd, General Conference 2019, click here!