From the beginning of worship at 7:30 AM this morning, the Virginia Conference delegation to The UMC Called General Conference was dancing: all of us in our own ways. The music filled our souls to the point that our hands began to clap and our feet move. You may have seen the videos on my Facebook page. By an early afternoon break, the entire delegation was laughing and carrying on with our fellow Virginians and friends in the concourse. Even though some might not admit it, I think we all enjoyed the moment. It certainly filled us with a positive energy and showed our true love for one another – even though we are not all of one mind on the questions before us: our “incompatibility” language for persons who are LGBTQ+, same gender marriage (in our buildings and by our clergy who so choose to officiate) and ordination.
Move from that moment to the release of the vote totals on priority of legislative petitions. Top on the list: pensions. Second: the Traditional Plan. Third: disaffiliation proposals which boil down to ownership of property.
I tried very hard in all the presentations I made for the last nine months to remain as unbiased as I could in what I said about the three plans presented in the report of the Commission on a Way Forward. However, if you know me and if you’ve listened to me make any presentation or offer any message in the past, you must know that inclusion in the life of the church is a high priority for me – inclusion of everybody.
So for me today, the afternoon went from delighting in the way we all worshiped and prayed together to the brink of tears when the Traditional Plan came out 56 votes ahead of the One Church Plan in the priority voting. Believe me, I still feel hopeful, but the wind got knocked out of my sail.
I can’t imagine being church where all the parts of the Body are not present and fully involved. The songs today would not have been as powerful if there weren’t voices from all around the world singing in their heart languages. The rhythm would not have been as joyful if it wasn’t for the clapping of hands in different beats, the movement of feet in varying patterns of steps, the notes of many versions of the same songs.
I want to learn from you, especially if your way of doing something is not the way I’m used to working. I want to sing with you, whether or not either one of us can carry a tune or know the song. I want to grow in discipleship with you, especially if your understanding of your relationship with God through Jesus Christ is different from mine. I want to pray with you even though you might cry out to God, the Father, and I prefer God, the Creator. I want to commune with you despite the fact that you prefer to kneel and receive the elements from silver containers, and I want one loaf of gluten-free bread without hand sanitizer. I want to dance with you, even if you don’t like liturgical movement in worship.
That’s church. That’s living as disciples of Jesus Christ who can transform the world, not keep it at status quo – because that’s what happens when people are excluded and our church becomes a place of privilege, not grace.