Day 1 of the General Conference began with 7 hours of worship, prayer and fasting.
Beginning with Prayers and Praises
The day focused on surrendering and submitting to God. Bishops led prayer from the stage and delegates took time to gather with one another for discussion and prayer.
Prayers were offered from each area of the world. Representatives of Europe and Asia celebrated churches bringing together youth from Ukraine and Russia to help bring peace among two conflicted cultures. They celebrated the way United Methodist Churches were welcoming migrants coming to Europe from all over the world and helping start new churches. They asked for prayer for the churches in Russia where new governmental restrictions severely limit the ability of churches to share the Gospel in their communities.
Churches from Africa celebrated new churches starting with almost no budget and trusting God to provide. They prayed for God’s strength for the church to remain united and continue its work in Africa in the areas of combatting preventable diseases and promoting women’s education and empowerment.
Churches from the United States asked for prayer for discrimination affecting migrants and African Americans. There was also a time of prayer for LGBTQ persons in the room and throughout the UMC.
UMC churches from the Philippines and Southeast Asia prayed for an end to violence against women, extrajudicial killings, terrorism and economic stagnation forcing many of their church members to seek employment in other countries to provide for their families.
The hours of prayer and worship concluded with a communion service and a scripture reading about the day of Pentecost from the book of Acts.
It was a beautiful morning to hear so many different languages and see so many diverse people praying for God’s will for our lives and the life of the church.
The business portion of the conference started in the late afternoon with a review of the plans and organization for the legislative portion of the conference which will begin in earnest tomorrow. For the first time the General Conference is employing a professional parliamentarian to help guide the chairperson and Bishops as they preside. Delegates were given significant training in the rules of order by the parliamentarian.
What to Expect Tomorrow
Sunday, after an opening worship service, the General Conference will prioritize legislation and elect officers for committee work. Expect to see votes designed to judge the priority which should be given to differing pieces of legislation. This will provide a bellwether for which plans and petitions have the most chance of eventual passage. The conference will also elect officers to preside over the legislative committee work on Monday.
Due to the rules of General Conference all legislation must go before a legislative committee before initially coming to the plenary floor. Due the focused nature of this General Conference there will only be one legislative committee comprised of all the delegates on Monday. Then anything the delegates pass in committee on Monday will go to the plenary floor on Tuesday for final approval or defeat.
Since there is only one committee, there only be one chairperson, one vice chair, and one secretary elected as officers. There will be significant discussion among delegates about how to elect officers who can be trusted to be impartial, efficient and able to oversee the committee in such a way that all delegates have equal opportunity to be involved in the deliberations of the committee.
How People Are Feeling
Throughout the morning of prayer and worship a feeling of anxiety and foreboding gradually gave way to a warm feeling of fellowship and shared hopes. There are still many fears, but our hope is that the peace which comes from prayer will help us speak the truth to one another in love rather than resentment or hate.
Some delegates fear a church that would adopt policies out of line with their understanding of scripture which would cause them to feel the need to leave the denomination. Others fear a denomination which no longer recognizes their call to ministry and where the calls of many other LGBTQ persons are ignored. Parents fear a church where their LGBTQ children do not feel entirely welcome. And many share the fear that a divided church would no longer be able to carry on all the ministries we celebrated and prayed for today. Pastors fear conflicts within their local churches and the possibility of struggling to provide for their families if church budgets are detrimentally affected.
And everyone hopes and prays God will moves us forward to a faithful future.
Please join us in these hopes and prayers.
Wil Cantrell serves as the Associate Pastor of Concord United Methodist Church in Farragut, TN. Wil’s driving passion is to help people live an authentic life while experiencing a real growing faith in Jesus Christ. Previously, he served as the associate pastor at Middlebrook Pike UMC and as the pastor of Lebanon Memorial UMC (Lebanon, VA) before coming to Concord UMC in July 2015.