Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Where've I been?

I've been out of touch for a bit, which drives me crazy. I hate letting things get behind. But I spent one of my two weeks of vacation at the United Methodist Church's General Conference 2004. I had the fun of snagging some media credentials and working for our conference newspaper, Connections. Copied here are my reflections from General Conference from our North Central New York Annual Conference Homepage:

First person: My thoughts on General Conference 2004 by Beth Quick

Four years ago, I served as a lay delegate to General Conference 2000 in Cleveland, Ohio, and the experience was life-changing for me. I was just about to graduate from Ohio Wesleyan University with my pre-theology degree. I had been accepted to Drew Theological School, where I would begin my Master of Divinity degree. I was closing one chapter in my life, and preparing to begin a whole new part of my path as I was seeking to respond to God’s call in my life.

In the midst of all this came General Conference. I was so excited and honored to be elected – I love the United Methodist Church, and even love our crazy structure and way of making decisions. To be right in the thick of it – I couldn’t wait. I signed up to serve on the Faith and Order Legislative Committee, the committee that would first handle most of the petitions dealing with the issue of homosexuality – I didn’t want to miss anything.

When I first arrived at the Conference in Cleveland, I was floored by the sheer magnitude of everything, by the holiness of the opening worship, by the amazing diversity of our global church. Eventually, I became discouraged – by the behind-the-scenes politicking, by the division that sometimes outweighed diversity, by the tension that made it hard to even sleep at night. But when my two weeks was drawing to a close, it felt hard to believe there was actually a world outside General Conference, as I had been living, breathing, and sleeping it all for what seemed like years. And despite the pain I carried from some decisions made there, I still felt that I loved my church and was committed to the kind of conferencing our gathering was all about.

Today, in 2004, my role at General Conference is much different. I knew after my experience at Cleveland that I wouldn’t be able to stay away, even though my status as a probationary elder made me ineligible for election this quadrennium. Sharon Fulmer was gracious enough to let me help her in the work of covering the conference for NCNY, allowing me to get a little closer to the action.

Being an observer is so different from being a delegate, with positives and negatives. I have enjoyed the freedom of sleeping in late when I need to (!), of leaving before 10 p.m. I have enjoyed being able to spend some quality time with friends from seminary, or college, or the General Board of Church and Society on which I serve. But I miss being with my NCNY colleagues and struggling through these days and decisions with them. I miss being there to be excited when legislation passes that moves our church into ministry, or agonizing with them when decisions cause pain. I want to hear their reflections, hear their concerns. Worshipping from in the bleachers, as opposed to down with the delegates, seems a strange phenomenon, as if peeking in through the windows of a home. I find it harder to keep track of what’s going on, even from my ‘over-the-shoulder’ view in the visitor bleachers. I wonder, if I can’t catch what’s going on as an observer, how do we communicate what is going on here to the people in our local churches?

Despite the drawbacks, I still wouldn’t trade being here, in whatever capacity I can make myself useful. Seeing the church at work in this way, with all its faults and all its strengths, makes me more committed than ever to the work to which Christ calls us. The church has always been a faulty vehicle, but always also been a vehicle of ministry, mission, and the love and grace of God in Jesus Christ. As long as that much is true, I’m proud to witness the United Methodist Church at work.

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