The 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon is over. It was a lot of work for a lot of people, who spent a lot of time and energy and money to gather us together, sift us into committees, guide us through piles of petitions, vote of quite a few of those petitions, and keep the United Methodist Church going for the next four years.
I'll be reflecting on these last ten days for quite a while, and will have thoughts on some more specific things to share along the way. But for now, on the evening of the last day, I have these initial impressions.
First this - everything is going to be fine. I have often called the United Methodist structure a "Holy Mess," and it really is. The "mess" notwithstanding, it is without a doubt "holy." God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The church is still the church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
Secondly - the badly needed reform of the denomination cannot happen via General Conference action. General Conference is a system that is designed to tweak organizational structures, and it tweaks the structure very well. Our structure has been tweaked, little by little over time, until it is a giant entangled hairball that hardly anyone understands, let alone fully complies with.
We will never tweak our way back into good health.
Thirdly - My impression is that there are relatively few people on either end of the theological spectrum at General Conference that are just always going to be angry, and there's nothing we can do about it. The right wing organizes to use parliamentary channels to advance their cause; the left wing protests. And those edges are a pretty low percentage of the whole.
The overwhelming majority of Methodism is comprised of people who are in the middle, with no desire whatsoever to channel their energy toward either political organizing for General Conference or protesting during it. The center would much rather channel their energy toward making disciples, helping people in need, starting churches, worshiping God, offering Christ, and just doing ministry in the places where God is calling them to go.
That's not to say they don't care about justice. That's not to say they're not evangelical. That's not to say they're somehow "lukewarm" Christians. It just means that the experience of General Conference is far removed from their experience and understanding of Christian discipleship.
The General Conference could be something special. If we could fundamentally change our system, throw everything out and start fresh, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church could be quite an amazing event.
If we could spend our time in prayer, worship, conversation, fellowship, visioning, celebrating work well done ... if we could covenant to meet 12 new people every day we're here ... if we could tell our stories, exchange ideas, get to know one another ...
If everyone coming home from General Conference was fired up for mission, ministry, and equipping the local church to do its work ...
Because that's where the hope is, my friends. In the thousands and thousands of local churches scattered around the world, where Methodists are formed in community for a transformational ministry in our communities.
If you're a Methodist, you've probably heard or read or watched something about this year's General Conference. Here's my advice: take it for what it's worth. And then go do your thing. Go and do what God wants you to be doing. Go be the church God is calling you to be.