So Many Words…

I’ve been a church nerd my entire life, and a Methonerd* since 1991. Spending all those years in mainline denominations means I’ve been surrounded by words spoken in a religious context. On Sunday mornings we often get many of the same words: familiar liturgy, songs and hymns we’ve heard many times, scriptures that come up every three years if your pastor uses the lectionary. We also get some words that change but are not surprising: prayer requests, benedictions, and sermons, even if they’re about a recurring subject.
Outside of worship, we get Sunday School words, committee words, counseling words, wedding and funeral words. I’m an NPR guy, so I get lots of words from the radio. Those of you with TVs get plenty of words there too. Since it’s an election year, we get extra words from the candidates; the words this year have ranged from hopeful to hurtful, sometimes all in the same breath. I often wonder what our ancestors from long ago would think about all our words. I’m guessing they would be puzzled by how many words we seem to need just to make it through a day.
Our pre-General Conference materials this year ran to 1,488 pages, all in one document. I did a word count, and the number of words in that document total 972,649! Almost a million words just to figure out what changes we’d like to make in the UMC over the next 4 years. It boggles my mind. The entire King James Bible has only 788,280 words. Where do all these words come from?
I started talking at nine months, if you believe my mother. She claimed that from that point I never shut up, and that’s mostly true. As I’ve gotten older (I’m 56 now!) I’ve come to value listening over talking, and silence over noise, and blank spaces over words. I offer far fewer opinions than I used to, and hear the words of others with much more concern and clarity than in my younger days. Is it maturity or weariness? Sometimes I wonder.
I was a General Conference delegate for the first time in 2012. Since then, many words have been written and spoken about The United Methodist Church. All the while, amidst this sea of words, the UMC has continued its work, in the local church and across the globe. So much good work has been done and continues to be done, often with no words at all. Just giving people, helping hands, and loving without reserve. At our best, we do all those things, with no words necessary.
Once General Conference starts, I predict you’ll hear many words from both within and without the church; some hopeful, some hurtful, some loving openly, some painful and frightened, some that will make you feel God’s presence, some that will make you certain God must be heartbroken. We never lack for words.
But know the work of God continues, sometimes because of, and sometimes in spite of the words. Nothing that happens at General Conference, no words of any kind, will prevent God from working in this world. If we love, and show our love, every day, in every interaction with those around us, we won’t need words. I pray for that day.
Honored to be your servant,
David Armstrong

* All credit to Rev. Jeremy Smith for this great descriptive term

David Armstrong
David Armstrong is the Southern District Lay Leader and delegate to the Western Jurisdictional Conference. He will be attending General Conference as a reserve delegate and observer. David lives in Idaho Falls, Idaho.