What a day. What follows are my reflections–this will be part 1 of 3. Today took a lot of energy–particularly the afternoon sessions observing the discussion of the General Board of Society. I spent the day observing the subcommittee handling the petitions on human sexuality. You can probably guess where this is going, particularly if you know anything about UMC discussion on this topic in recent years.
I arrived this morning at the Ft. Worth Convention Center around 8:00 a.m. I was met shortly afterward by Andrew Conard. Upon asking for his first impressions, Andrew simply stated, “I’m really struck by just how much hard work it takes to be a denomination.” He’s right. Unity takes work, patience, listening, and thoughtful articulation of vision. As I walked in the front door I breezed past a number of people from all over the world. A choir was waiting to enter the convention center floor to contribute their gifts to our collective worship. I had the general impression that people were happy and excited to be there.
Worship was excellent. You can read about Bishop João Somane Machado’s sermon here. Bishop Machado is from Mozambique. He spoke in his native tongue with a translator at his side. Because the message was translated, I found myself listening more carefully. I watched his body language and listened closely to his intonation. Machado focused his message on Galatians 5:7-10:
7You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? 8That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9“A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. (NIV)
He challenged the UMC, saying, “You were running so well–what happened?” He also focused on Matthew 28:16-18 as part of his message.
Machado was full of passion and excitement for the gospel. He emphasized the excellence of the theme of the conference. He was excited about making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. He spoke of his own story and the way in which the United Methodist Church had shaped his own vision for caring for the poor and for evangelism. It was powerful. It was good.
If anything I left the opening worship feeling energized. I had already heard reports of church discussion regarding church planting, leadership development, and justice, which I had blogged about here. These early reports, which I had read, were confirmed as true by friends who were at the conference the last couple of days. Not only did they say that these points of emphasis were mentioned, but also that a plan came along with these initiatives that had measurable goals which were clearly stated. Vision was being cast, something which church leaders who are friends found very encouraging.
Those are my earliest recollections from today. More to come.