I was just coming out of the custodian’s office here at Portland First last evening, and was on my way back to my office when a man walked down the hallway and said to me, “I have a question” – in a rather abrupt and mildly hostile manner. So, I took a deep breath, and asked how I could help him.
Apparently he was here to lead a group of Buddhist folks screening a film about Tibet, and he wondered if it would be alright for his therapy dog to come into the meeting space. Since the room they were using has an easy-care tile floor, and since the dog is well trained and quiet, I said “no problem.”
And all of a sudden the man’s demeanor changed, as he then asked me, “How is it that you Methodists are so quick to make things work out? Why do you not have the same kind of rules and limitations that other churches have?”
That is precisely the kind of question I want to hear from folks coming into our United Methodist churches. Because, as I told my new Buddhist friend (whose dog actually came to visit me in my office while he set up for his meeting)… “It’s in our DNA. Our founder, John Wesley, was interested in making things work.”
I think that is one reason Wesley wanted to connect personal piety and social justice. He wanted to make discipleship work. He wanted to make spiritual growth in community work. He wanted to make positive real-world change work, for the sake of Christ’s Gospel.
And even though we have grown up into an institution with plenty of rules to order our common life, I am convinced order does not need to stand in the way of an inclusive community which “makes disciples for Jesus Christ” and “transforms the world.”
My hope as we head to General Conference 2012 is that we will find new opportunities to engage in dialogue, and to influence legislation which will help us make things work – not just for existing members, but for those we have yet to reach. I would love to see our Church making things work for the world we live in now, (as opposed to the world of the past), and for the world which we will inhabit in the next four years.
As a member of the Commission on General Conference these past four years I have been privileged to wrestle with the structure and form that this year’s Conference will take – including conversations around parliamentary procedure (why does it have to be “Robert’s Rules,” when 40% of the delegates to this General Conference are coming from outside the United States, where they have other ways of organizing legislative assemblies?); around attention spans and energy levels (why can’t we put a time limit on committee work and honor more reasonable hours for the delegates?); around hospitality and financial considerations, and on and on.
I am anxious to see how these conversations will be fleshed out in real-time in Tampa. And I will do my best to keep looking for ways to “make things work,” at every level of our great Church. And don’t forget – in 2016 the world of United Methodism will be coming here to Portland!