A day of prayer and worship started this General Conference experience inside The Dome in St. Louis. Sandwiched between a middle and high school volleyball tournament this weekend and a monster truck show that begins as soon as we leave, United Methodists from around the world spent six hours today offering general prayers of intercession for the work of this General Conference and specific times of prayer for those in the four major regions of The UMC: our churches and communities. We prayed in the styles and languages of our fellow United Methodists in Europe and Eurasia. I didn’t know until today that the original language of “How Great Thou Art” was Swedish. We prayed – with no Power Point needed as one of the Bishops said – for Africa where health, education and women’s empowerment were among the shared concerns. We prayed for The Philippines where HIV/AIDS, poverty and tribal fighting were in our prayers. We prayed for the United States with evangelism and making disciples among our concerns.
There were two extremely powerful moments for me. First, at the close of all four sections of prayers for parts of our global Connection, we were invited to join our voices in Tongsung Kido (pray aloud). The Discipleship Ministries website describes this style of prayer as popular in Korean congregations among others. Usually the congregation is given a specific topic or theme of petition or supplication and a specific time period. Then all pray aloud at the same time. Our Bishops led us, all coming to the front of the stage and praying in their various heart languages. This picture captures the moment. The power of that prayer radiated within my soul.
Then, at the end of the day of prayer, we were invited to close in the same way the Commission on a Way Forward ended their work together. Rather than pass the peace as most congregations normally would at the appropriate time in the Service of Holy Communion, we were encouraged to go up to one another and speak the following: “If I have done anything to intentionally or unintentionally cause you harm, forgive me. The peace of Christ be with you.”
I knew where I had to start. I moved to a particular person. As soon as I started to call the person’s name and utter “…if I have done anything…” the tears formed in my eyes. I barely got the words out.
Outside, on all four corners of the intersection at the only entry and exit for us, were “Christian” folks from Westboro Baptist Church, Topeka, KS. As you can imagine when the website name with their schedule is too hateful to type here, their signs and words were filled with anger and hurt. Yet there was no way out of The Dome without receiving their wrath. As you walked by, things were shouted, things that one supposed Christian should never say to another. As we walked past tonight, it was “You’re going to hell and Jesus will be laughing ’cause you should have known better.”
Their news release begins: THE GOSPEL OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST TO BE PREACHED IN CLOSE PROXIMITY TO UNITED METHODIST CHURCH SPECIAL SESSION WAY FORWARD CONFERENCE. It ends: GOD HATES LYING METHODISTS!
I am so thankful for this denomination that raised me, that taught me to value the entire multitude of voices (and opinions) that come from all around the world to pray, sing, worship and work in mission together.
I am so thankful for an understanding of grace that tells me I can go to those I feel I may have intentionally or unintentionally harmed or been harmed by and offer forgiveness.
I am so thankful that God called me to this moment in the life of our church when we have an opportunity to model to the world a different way of living together in community. Will we hear God’s voice and respond with all our prayers being spoken in different languages and with various understandings at the same time yet offering such a powerful witness that your soul quivers with the thought of what God can do through us in the world? Or will we continue to utter harmful words to each other, shouting that one side is right and the other wrong? Will we be the voices raised in Tongsung Kido or those gathered on the street corners?
Each of us must make a choice…and the world is watching