It’s not because I’m about to become a university chaplain and therefore feel that I have no relationship to what’s going on at General Conference. It’s because I don’t think the restructuring of the general agencies, boards, committees, and conferences of the denomination will have any significant impact on what happens in my local church.
If you haven’t been following the drama like those of us who are “methonerds” (a new term I learned from the live twitterfeed accompanying the live streaming of GC), there have been several proposals brought forward at General Conference that would restructure The United Methodist Church. The reasons given are as varied as the plans they represent–we need a “leaner” structure, we need more inclusion at the highest levels of governance, we need to save money…and the list goes on, ad nauseum. But there is one thing that I think all the plans have in common–on Sunday morning, when I come to church, no one in my congregation is going to care. Nor will any of the young people I’ll be working with at Ohio Northern University in a couple months’ time. Nor does the world at large. One young delegate this morning said to the plenary, “The world is watching.” Really? Because back here in the real world, nobody is talking about this, except those of us who are glued to the live stream every minute of the day.
The fact is, the world isn’t watching, because the world doesn’t care. But that doesn’t mean that the world doesn’t still need to hear the voice of compassion, love and grace that can come from the church. And the way they hear that voice (which is the voice of Christ, by the way, not The United Methodist Church), is through the outreach efforts of hundreds and thousands of local churches, missions, camp programs, youth ministries and outreach teams that make up the bulk of The United Methodist Church. What happens in Tampa will largely stay in Tampa, or will be moved to Nashville, at least, and will affect a very few people. Important people, yes, but not the bulk of the body of Christ.
When I served as a page at GC in 2008, one of the learnings that I came away from that event with was this– General Conference is a very rarified environment. Things that seem like life and death issues in the convention center of whatever city we happen to be meeting in are very rarely that. The debates that are held on the floor of the plenary sessions are important, and they will be remembered by church historians and methonerds for many years, but much of what is making some delegates hyperventilate will not even be a blip on the radar screen of the rest of the world. It’s a hard truth to take, and I don’t mean this to negate the important work that the delegates do, but I want to bring a sense of reality to what we’re witnessing in Tampa. I’m not there (can you tell that I wish I was?), but the delegates and everyone at GC 2012 are in my heart and in my prayers. What they are doing is important–to The United Methodist Church–but what’s most important is what’s happening in my local church, and yours, and every local church and mission site in the world. Will the gospel message be more effectively preached if we radically restructure our denomination? Perhaps, but not as much as if we were to put more of our time, energy and funding behind local efforts to be the presence of Christ to the world.
So, I’ve stopped caring about which plan is adopted–not that it will stop me from watching the live stream at www.umc.org feverishly–because I know that the Church will continue doing what it’s doing tomorrow (and for years to come) regardless of how many agencies, boards and structures we have as a denomination. As some young people who created a flash mob at GC this week sang, and in the words of the musical “Hairspray,” You Can’t Stop the Beat.
With love for all my GC brothers and sisters in Christ,