Sometimes the best moments of major meetings happen in parking lots.
The 2008 General Conference is, Conference Committee officials reported, a $6 million meeting; with about $500 a minute being spent on worship, debate and the setting of a course for the church for the next four years.
This money was well spent as the event opened, with worship for 6,500 United Methodists who represented 48,000 congregations from 50 countries around the world.
The value also held up on the first full day as the denomination’s leaders laid out how the United Methodist Church will live into its next 40 years, “making disciples for the transformation of the world.”
But amid the organized pageantry and polity, while walking into the plenary session, the Rev. Bruce Birch, an Old Testament scholar on the Baltimore-Washington Conference delegation mentioned that he likes to tell his seminary students to “find the moments when their lives intersect with the biblical story.”
What a perfect prism through which to build discipleship, and to reflect upon a church struggling to find a future in which it can feel relevant.
If there is one biblical theme that is intersecting with this session of General Conference, it is a soul-stirring yearning for hope.
Too often in our world, said Bishop Janice Huie, president of the Council of Bishops, hope becomes a “marshmallow word,” – a gooey, sweet kind of shallow, wishful thinking. But real hope, the kind that changes people perspectives on life and living, is something United Methodists must embrace.
Huie calls it “resurrection hope” – the kind causes disciples to “wait with eager longing and unfettered imaginations to discover where God is already at work in the world and join with God in that transformation.”
Once this hope is grasped, disciples can grow by practicing the “United Methodist way” defined by three simple (yet complex-beyond-measure) steps: “do good, do no harm, and stay in love with God.”
Delegates signed a covenant pledging to do these three things. Outside the convention center, in parking lots and on street corners, they’ll begin to find new ways to intersect with God’s plans for their, and the church’s, future.