Visitors to the museum will find ropes, boots, hats, spangles, rodeo photos, a bucking bronco to test their own western spirit and hundreds of quotes from cowgirls all along the trail. The stories they tell all differ, but one common thread runs through them – the cowgirls viewed themselves as “other,” people set apart from the rest of the world by their unique spirit.
In a van from the airport, the Rev. Peggy Johnson, a delegate from the Baltimore-Washington Conference, spoke about that same sense of feeling set apart. She even used “other” as a verb, feeling that, as a pastor to the deaf who went to a conservative seminary and now finds Christ through social justice ministries, she has sometimes been “othered.”
We all probably have in The United Methodist Church. With 11.5 million members, who make a point of celebrating their diversity, being “other” is almost an expectation.
But then, on a different bus, a group of pastors from Mississippi began speaking about the other. They joked about withdrawing money from Methodist colleges that allowed the study of “liberal arts.” They sat certain in their conviction that evangelism should be the primary focus of the church and that social action and liberal leanings were not to be endorsed.
They looked upon the mother handing out invitations to a reconciling breakfast that would advocate for the inclusion of her gay son in the United Methodist family as “other;” and she othered them right back.
And yet, Johnson said, the task of this General Conference is to set a table for all. During the next 10 days, 992 delegates will be shaping a course for the future and, just like there is room and purpose for both the sun and the moon in the sky, there must be purpose for all the “others” to bring their unique light to the church.
Just like the cowgirls were defined by the spirit of daring to be different, daring to be authentic and real, United Methodists at this General Conference will define themselves and the church by the way they choose to be other together and the way this otherness can transform the world.