Preparing for General Conference

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Reporting from Portland

By Rachael Sumner | GC 2016 Lay Delegate

In a few weeks, The United Methodist Church will hold its General Conference in Portland, Oregon. General Conference convenes every 4 years and United Methodists come from all over the world to worship together, pray together and discern together the direction God would have our denomination go. That is the hope anyway, that when we come together as a body, we will listen for the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts and hearts into action and polity that is of God. Changes will be made to our Book of Discipline, a book that states what we as United Methodists believe and also our Book of Resolutions. As you can imagine, this is quite a difficult task. There are many important issues we will be discussing, although the one that is getting the most press and attention is human sexuality.

This is the legislation we are reading to ahead of time!

Florida has 18 delegates going to General Conference - 9 clergy and 9 laity. I was elected as one of those delegates. Our delegation has been preparing since we were elected last June. We have met on Saturdays, learning all we can about what to expect and educating ourselves on petitions and resolutions we will vote on at GC. While GC lasts 2 weeks, the first week is spent in legislative committees, going through each petition and resolution within your committee to refine, rework and avoid duplicates. There are 12 legislative committees, I am serving on General Administration, which has to do with the structure of the Methodist Church, its boards and agencies. The second week we meet as a body, all 874 delegates to discuss and votes on the petitions that have been worked on in each committee. I have ordered "The Idiot's Guide to Roberts Rules of Order" because I found that 4 years ago when I attended as an observer I got a bit lost in the process. When there is an amendment to the amendment, but that isn't passed so you are back to the original amendment, it gets a bit confusing. Especially because it moves quickly and in layers.

This is the legislation we are reading ahead of time!

A week ago Sunday our Bishop visited our local church to preach. When it came time for the Children's Message Pastor Charlie talked to the children about laying on of hands and why people do this. He asked if they would like to learn how to lay hands on people and pray for them. Bishop Carter and I were invited to come and kneel at the rail and the children (and a few adults) laid hands on us as the church prayed for us. When Charlie first told me he was going to do this I loved the idea of involving the children in such a way. It's one of the things I really love about our church. I wasn't prepared for how meaningful this would be as it played out. As I knelt at the rail with all of these little hands on me, some who were rubbing my arm. At one point I looked up and there were these two little eyes looking right into mine and the innocent smile of a 3 year old who may not have fully understood the importance of that in which she was taking part, but she is learning and will continue to learn and grow in this intergenerational body of Christ. It was a sweet moment and I'm finding it hard to describe in words how it felt, but my heart was warmed and I found such meaning in this act of prayer.

Last Thursday night we gathered as a church for a prayer service for General Conference. We prayed for GC as a whole and for the work to be done there and we prayed for each delegate from Florida by name. Pastor Charlie read several passages of Scripture, we sang hymns and he gave us a word, which was actually more of a conversation. We talked about the mystery of our Unity in Christ and how the light that He brings in the world means that he has already won the victory over death, no matter what happens in Portland. It was an uplifting service and I felt encouraged and supported by the prayers that were lifted up.

I have received cards and letters in the mail from people I don't know who have let me know they are praying for me and for all who are going to General Conference. If you think your prayers don't matter, they do and it is really special when someone lets you know they are praying for you specifically.

I covet your prayers as I prepare to go to Oregon. It is exhausting, as we are in meetings from early in the morning until very late at night, but there are times especially during worship that are quite powerful. Worshiping with people from all over the world, knowing that the business that occurs there has an impact on Christ’s Church and setting the vision of where the Church will go during the next four years gives what we do purpose. Please pray for our time in Portland, that it is fruitful and for a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit to descend upon the Conference. Also, please pray for my family, as they will be home without me for two weeks.

If you would like to follow along with what is going on during General Conference, there are two ways to do this. One, follow my blog. I will be blogging as I can about what is happening. Also, you can visit the General Conference website for more information about legislation that will be discussed and voted on. The plenary sessions and worship will be live streamed and you can find the information about that either on the GC site or I will post links on my blog.

Thank you for your support, prayers and words of encouragement as I go to Portland. I hope to represent you well and carry you all in my heart as I go.



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