If COVID-19 had not exploded around the world, I would have been making my way to the Richmond airport right now to board a plane to Minneapolis. There I would have joined 861 fellow United Methodists from around the world to determine our future as a denomination. Instead of flying to Minnesota, I’ll be participating in Zoom meetings and telephone calls. I will not receive my credentials as a delegate or go to an orientation session, but I will address the demands of a global pandemic on seniors.
I had hoped that decisions would be made which would end our 48 year debate about who is and who is not fully included in the Body of Christ. Just writing that sentence leaves me numb. Who am I to even have a small part in such a life-altering decision?
I had been praying that by the time July arrived and the Southeastern UMC Jurisdictional Conference met, we would have a clearer picture of new bishops to be elected and changes in assigned episcopal areas for others. I prayed that after a lifetime of division, we might actually be able to make courageous, strategic decisions as to how we move forward to actually transform individual lives and the world.
But now, just like every local United Methodist congregation trying to envision what church will be after this time of COVID-19, there are still just questions without immediate answers. Those answers will have to wait for at least another 15 months. What will the world be like then? What will “church” be like then? What are we learning during this strange and challenging time that might make the decisions required of the next General Conference have an unexpected result?
Today I’m going to wear the General Conference jewelry I had purchased in anticipation of this day. One bracelet carries my guiding phrase for 2020: “Delicious Ambiguity.” The other has the theme for the General Conference: “be still and know” from Psalm 46:10. Can I carry both of those statements through until the fall of 2021? Who will I be in 15 more months – a stronger advocate, a weaker soul, a better disciple?
I wonder if after these weeks of being apart from one another we might as followers of Jesus realize just as Jesus tried to teach us that it is a person’s heart that really matters – not the color of their skin, who they love, their political leanings or where they were born or choose to live. I wonder if being “still” for these few months might lead us to deeper personal discernment about how we care for one another, even to the point of giving up our freedom in order to protect our neighbors or potentially giving up our lives to make sure the most vulnerable survive. Will not being able to physically share our table space with others cause us to want the circle open more widely once we can gather together again?
The General Conference reading is hidden away for now. The airline and hotel reservations will have to be made again. New guiding words and themes might emerge. And maybe, just maybe, the Holy Spirit is moving in the most mysterious of ways.
In The Message, Eugene Peterson translated the ending words of Psalm 46:10 this way:
“Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.”
Hummm? Mysterious ways???
The traffic has stopped on what was to be a day of travel. Weeks of isolation are offering time for discernment and courageous decisions – a long, loving look at God if we so choose. And God above politics…. Hummm? Mysterious!!!