Mary White, left at table, chair of the EPA Conference delegation, chairs a sub-committee of the Finance and Administration Legislative Committee. Photo by Bron Yocum.
We’re off! General Confetence 2012 is underway. On Tuesday, many of us from EPA attended briefings by various groups including first time attenders briefings, and orientations for women, young people and racial and ethnic minorities. The formal conference began that evening with opening worship. Marcia McFee and the worship panning team have prepared a beautiful worship setting. With the theme of Discipleship Beside the Sea, the worship is enhanced by the sights and sounds of the shoreline. Bishop Johnson signed the Great Thanksgiving as a dozen bishops gathered around the communion table set in the middle of the congregation. It was a moment of God-inspired community and communion.
Following worship we moved to adopting the rules. And in what may be a portent of things to come, we had over 20 amendments that caused us to adjourn for the night without adopting rules. On Wednesday morning, we eventually adopted the rules without amendment. Three hours of debate to bring us back to where we started.
Prior to turning to the rules on Wednesday, we had the episcopal and the laity addresses. Bishop Peter Weaver gave the Episcopal address, calling the church to a resurrection revolution. “If God can raise a crucified Christ, surely he can revive a calcified church,” Bishop Weaver proclaimed. Speaking of the ways lives are changed, he told how he had participated in the baptism of 5 youth in a cold New Hampshire river. The five were youth from the Congo. Their families had been driven from their homes by violent acts of war, and sought safety in a refugee camp. One night, the rebel army paid off the camp guards, and entered the camp with machine guns blazing. Over 100 were killed and scores more injured. One pregnant woman had been lined up to be killed but the soldier aiming at her ran out of bullets. The baby boy born that night in the midst of all the blood and death was one of the five youth to be baptized. Another of the youth survived when his father threw himself across the body of his son. The boy laid beneath his father’s dead corpse for hours before he was rescued. As a result of the violence, the United Nations resettled the survivors in nations around the world. The five youth coming for baptism were part of the group that was resettled in New Hampshire. They had been Methodist in the Congo, but not yet baptized. And so they sought to be baptized and join the United Methodist Church in New Hampshire. God was working through that local church that welcomed these families in. Bishop Weaver then introduced four of the young men who were baptized that day, who had come to be with us at General Conference. One is now a college student studying international relations in hopes of helping to bring about peace in his native land. That is the power of God’s Spirit at work in resurrection revolution.
The laity report was given by three lay persons from the United Methodist Church. Betty Spiwe Katiyo became the first person from Africa to speak in the laity address. She talked about her home church that seated more than 1000 people. Despite that many many more would sit outside on the ground in order to be part of the worshiping community. This was a sign, she believed, of the hunger for God in the world today. The second address was given by Dr. Furr, a family doctor who had lost over 50 pounds by transforming unhealthy habits. He said that his transformation had required part of him to die so that the real person he was could live. He compared that to the need for transformation in the church. The third laity address was given by Amory Peck. She spoke of actions taken in the 2008 General Conference that placed more responsibility on the laity for the work of the kingdom of God. Using the refrain, “if it’s going to be, it’s up to me,” she encouraged all of us to be involved in the church, lay and clergy alike.
In the afternoon session, the legislative committees met for the first time to elect officers. Dr. Mary White was elected a sub-committee chair for the Financial Administration legislative committee. The actual work of the committees will begin today, Thursday.
It has been fascinating to observe these first two days. General Conference is a mixture of people from all around the world and all around our nation. 48% of the delegates come from outside the United States. Men and women, young and old, every skin color, conservative and liberal, all are represented here. The proceedings are a reminder that God is at work through a human institution. The politicking in the hallways, the whispered conversations in the corner, remind us that we are human. And yet through our human activities, God is able to accomplish great things.
Please keep us in prayer as the EPA delegation joins with people from around the world to discern God’s will for the United Methodist Church in the years ahead.
Blessings from Tampa,
Bron Yocum, Superintendent, Northeast District, Eastern PA Conference of The United Methodist Church