By Alex Shanks | GC 2016 Clergy Delegate
As I was cleaning out my files in preparation for our move this summer, I found a devotion I gave 16 years ago to the 2000 delegation to the General Conference. I was a student at Florida Southern at the time, serving as a lay delegate. The focus of the devotion was on the passage from 2 Timothy 1:7: "God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline." Looking back at the dated devotion, I again reflected on the question I asked the delegates long ago: "What are we afraid of as we head to General Conference?"
I would love to pretend I have no fear about General Conference, but that would be disingenuous. This is a serious responsibility. Having read and received letters and emails from across the globe expressing a wide range of viewpoints, I know the United Methodist world will undoubtedly be watching. What we do and what we say (and even how we treat each other both inside and outside the convention center) could impact churches and individuals, both in the present and for generations to come. There is reason to approach some of this work with an appropriate amount of "fear and trembling."
At the same time, I am determined to not let fear or anxiety be at the center. To do so would simply fuel the forces that tend to create chaos. It would also pretend as if all of this is something new. We aren't the first delegation to head to a General Conference. Even more, the people of God have faithfully survived much worse. The Israelites and disciples alike looked fear in the eye and stayed on the covenant journey with our God.
As I sit on this long plane ride to Portland, the words of the prophet Isaiah keep ringing in my ear: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters ... when you walk through the fire ... do not be afraid, I will be with you" (Isaiah 43:1-5). Which means, even as we head to Portland, maybe especially as we approach Portland, we do not have to be afraid. God is with us. Thanks be to God.