Sacramental desecration at General Conference 2004 (May 21, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Sacramental desecration at General Conference 2004

May 21, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0080}

An e-Review Commentary
By the Rev. Jorge Acevedo**


I’m not sure what is happening in me, but in my mid-40s I find myself appreciating the sacramental life of the church. It could be the twenty-something, post-modern student pastor who has joined our team at Grace Church. He pushes me to reconsider the power of symbol and the mystery of God at work. To the delight of my Duke grad colleagues, this died-in-the-wool, revivalist, Asburian is experiencing God in fresh and new ways. Communion has become a more meaningful God-filled experience and not just a mere symbol of Christ’s sacrifice. Baptizing infants feels more like holy work and less like pastoral obligation.

I guess that’s why, upon reflection of my time at General Conference in Pittsburgh, I find myself disappointed at best and angry at worst over the desecration of the sacraments during the church’s wrestling over the homosexuality issue. Specifically, I am appalled at two sacramental violations. 

First, someone broke a communion chalice during the Tuesday, May 4, noontime communion service to express anger over the retaining of the current policy of the church regarding homosexuality earlier that morning. Throughout much, if not all of the remaining General Conference, the broken pieces of the chalice remained on the altar as a symbol of our divided church. I wonder what would have happened if this had been done in one of the over 37,000 United Methodist churches in America. If it had been reported to the district superintendent, would not the pastor-in-charge at least have been reprimanded? Our bishops said and did nothing. Our General Conference said and did nothing. I said and did nothing, and I am sorry.

The second sacramental desecration happened during the interruption of General Conference by Soulforce on Thursday afternoon, May 6. The interruption itself should not have been allowed in my estimation. Would we allow Good News or the Confessing Movement to do so? Regardless, this is when some of the Soulforce protestors poured water into the baptismal font, a symbol of our theme “Water Washed, Spirit Born,” that had been present throughout General Conference on the platform. Again, this is a violation of our mutual sacramental life and commitment. And again, no one said or did a thing.
The irony is that at the General Conference 2000 we approved the work of the baptismal study and at the General Conference 2004 we approved the work of the communion study. Some of the finest Wesleyan scholars and worship leaders of our denomination diligently worked to frame our sacramental life, both biblically and historically. Yet, at General Conference 2004, we allowed these two precious gifts of God to be vandalized. 
Regardless of your stance on homosexuality, you have to admit that something is amiss here. I cannot handle the sacraments this sloppily in the church to which I am appointed. The handling of these “holy” things is a part of my ordination vows of Word, sacrament and order. All I can say is “Shame on us!”


This commentary relates to General Conference and the Sacraments.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Acevedo is senior pastor at Grace United Methodist Church, Cape Coral, and a Florida Conference delegate to the 2004 General Conference.

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