PORTLAND, Ore.—The final day of committee work at General Conference closed at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, May 14, and members of South Carolina’s delegation ended this phase of their work tired but sure the Holy Spirit had used them well.
After a Sabbath May 15, the next phase of General Conference will begin early Monday morning, and delegates will be on the floor voting with the rest of the nearly-1,000-member global body that represents The United Methodist Church.
May 14 began with worship led by Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, of the Northeastern Jurisdictional’s Boston Episcopal Area, followed by a plenary session featuring the young people’s address.
Delegates spent the rest of the day in their committees delving into topics sometimes divisive and contentious and other times far simpler. On the heels of the Church and Society 2 committee chair who collapsed May 13, May 14 brought a second collapse: that committee’s vice chair, who fainted during discussion. As with the day prior, other committees stopped their work to take a few moments of prayer for their sister in Christ and to remind each other not to neglect self-care in their zeal to do God’s work for the UMC.
Midday Saturday, the Rev. Tim Rogers said the work of his committee—Judicial Administration—was going surprisingly well.
“It’s not been that intense, though there are moments that were fairly intense, but we somehow worked through those in less than five minutes,” Rogers told the Advocate. “I think our committee is dealing with some fairly difficult issues with a lot of congeniality and respect for one another, and I’ve been really pleased with that. In some ways, that’s at least as important as whatever it is that comes out of the committee.”
The Rev. Susan Leonard-Ray served in the Church and Society 2 committee, which was tasked with addressing what many consider to be the most challenging issues of this year’s General Conference: those pertaining to human sexuality. Leonard-Ray said what makes work on an already-sensitive topic even more difficult is the differing worldview of the United States delegates versus those from the Central Conferences, particularly Africa.
“The reality is many in the Central Conferences, particularly Africa, have issues with sexuality and with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning people,” she said.
In some countries, Leonard-Ray said, parents will kick children and youth out of the home if they announce they are gay, which is so different from how often it is in the States.
“The language is, ‘They belong to the streets; let the streets take care of them,’ which stands in conflict with us (who are asking), ‘How do we care of the vulnerable, particularly children and youth,’” Leonard-Ray said. “From the starting point of that divide, the cultural challenge is huge, and the worldview is so drastically different.”
Lollie Haselden served as an alternate delegate and was able to fill in here and there for delegates who needed a break or had gotten ill. She spent the majority of her time observing different committees and the people in them.
“I’ve learned each committee functions differently depending on who’s the chair, and it’s really been a global experience,” she said Saturday. “People speak different languages and look different on the outside, but as we were reminded, even though we look and sound different, our hearts beat the same. We all serve the same God and all love the ministry of Jesus.”
Haseldon said she’s enjoyed that every day has begun with powerful worship.
“It’s like a Pentecost moment every day,” she said.
Two “God moments” have stood out for her during Genera Conference so far—moments where she has learned far more than she dreamed possible. One was during the Celebration of Laity dinner, when she was seated with the lay leader for Zimbabwe, a man named Simon.
“What Simon reminded us is that when people are hungry…you can’t give them Jesus Christ first,” Haselden said. “He said: ‘You have to feed them first.’ He was right—it’s so important to meet the everyday needs of people.”
The other “God moment” was when Haselden encountered a couple of men who were homeless and hungry, and they struck up a conversation. Haselden innocently blurted out, “Life sucks sometimes.”
“But the guy looked at me and said, ‘Life doesn’t suck. Sometimes the circumstances aren’t good, but life itself is beautiful.”
Right in that moment, he was showing Jesus to her, and for Haselden, that was the true meaning of General Conference.
All delegates requested continued prayer for them and all who are doing the work of the Lord at General Conference.
Check back Monday night for the next General Conference wrap-up.
Brodie is editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate.