The Journey to General Conference


It's probably not a coincidence that the hard work of preparing for General Conference gets kicked into high gear just as Lent is beginning. In this season of burlap and ashes and human failings, what could be more appropriate than spending hour upon hour reading petitions seeking to make myriad changes to a stuffy book called The Discipline?

The Lenten journey is all about change: am I willing to repent, to turn around so that I am facing into the wind of the Holy Spirit? I suspect that all 988 delegates to General Conference would agree that The United Methodist Church needs some kind of change. But can we determine together which direction the Spirit is blowing?

My friend Todd Pick is in charge of creating the visual art for our GC worship services. He looks at Ash Wednesday as the "crossing" of the holy-human. We are dust, he says, but it is "dust filled with breath and Spirit of God. Within the ashes is the challenge to become fully alive--fully human--as we live resurrected lives."

General Conference may be an unlikely venue in which to become fully human, but that is my prayer as I embark on my own Lenten journey. Within the ashes of conflict and fear lies the challenge of truly becoming the Body of Christ--the resurrected Body of Christ. In the tedium of dusty petitions I hope to encounter the very breath of God, inspiring the whole church into the kind of change that transforms lives...including my own.

In the days ahead (as I write this, GC is just 61 days away!), you will read a variety of perspectives on General Conference as the other members of the Oregon-Idaho GC/JC delegation take their turn on this blog. And during GC itself, we'll be updating you frequently as we do our best to stay connected. Greg Nelson, Director of Communications for the annual conference, will also be traveling to Tampa and will do his usual excellent job of reporting on the event. You'll feel as if you're right there with us...minus the sleep deprivation and the palm trees!

One of the things I appreciate about Lent is its invitation to intensify my daily prayer rituals. Indeed, the only way I can make it through all that burlap and ashes and human failings stuff is by grounding myself in prayer--lots of it.  I believe the same is true of General Conference. But General Conference will take much more than just my own prayers. Many of you have already been praying for our delegation. I hope that you will join us in the Fifty Days of Prayer for General Conference. I also invite you to participate in the prayer mantle workshops that will take place at the Alton L. Collins Retreat Center March 23 and 24. You can come in person to one of the workshops if you live near the Portland metro area (click here to register--it's free!), or you can participate by praying for the mantle-makers during the time of the workshop.

Can we become fully alive--fully human--during a two-week marathon of meetings, debates, and parliamentary manuevering? My dream for General Conference is that, through the transformative power of prayer, our church will be able to turn around and joyfully embrace the life-giving, healing, fully inclusive, radical love that God is ready to breathe into our hurting world. Sound impossible? I agree. But let me get back to you about that after Easter Sunday. I might just have changed my mind about the definition of impossible.  I've got 40 days to work on that.

Laura Jaquith Bartlett
Laura Jaquith Bartlett is an Oregon-Idaho Clergy Delegate to the 2012 General and Jurisdictional conferences, and head of the delegation. She serves the conference in many other ways including as Conference Secretary and Program Director at the Alton L. Collins Retreat Center.