How can we doubt?
How can we doubt?
Last Saturday, March 12, our delegation held our one and only face-to-face meeting. Our conference elected a lot of very busy people, and we have had a hard time getting everyone together. This date was the best we could find, and even so we were missing one person.
Not meeting together does not mean that people have not been taking their responsibilities seriously. Each person in the delegation has taken on one of the twelve legislative committees as their main area. They came to the meeting ready to lift up the petitions that stood out to them as especially important to our conference. With hundreds of petitions, we cannot discuss them all, but we were able to have thorough discussions on several of the major issues. I was excited at the variety of ideas and viewpoints contributed by people with different experiences and areas of expertise. These discussions will no doubt continue as we move closer to the start of General Conference on May 10. Although we only have two votes, we will have the wisdom of a whole team to inform those votes.
As we reviewed legislation in all the areas, I kept coming back in my own mind to one question: How will this affect the whole church? Some people call us crazy, but we are still trying to be a church in the US, Africa, Europe, and the Philippines. There is a petition to form new conferences in parts of Asia where much work has already been happening. Is this even possible? Can we find enough common ground to continue to work together on a mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”? Programs like Imagine No Malaria make me think “we can do this!” But to be honest, getting rid of a deadly disease is pretty easy to agree on. It gets harder when we get to something like protecting the rights to education and independent decision-making for women and girls. It becomes nearly impossible when we try to tackle an issue where there is no hint of global consensus, such as protecting and including persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
Last month I had an opportunity to see both the potential and the problems when I attended one of the pre-conference briefings in Africa. I spent four days in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the largest of the three African central conferences. French is the common language, although there were delegates there from English-speaking areas also. Lack of a shared language is the most obvious barrier to a common mission, even with the help of very skilled translators. Beyond that, history and culture are more subtle but maybe more formidable barriers. The differences are big and real and will not be easily overcome. Yet we shared in conversation and around the table of communion as if we are all sisters and brothers in Christ.
I choose to believe that we can overcome the differences if we are willing to let the Holy Spirit work in us as individuals and as a body. It will not happen by a majority vote. Maybe in addition to reading legislation, we should spend some of our time reading the stories in Acts and the letters of Paul about the struggles of the early church. If the Spirit could bring together the Christians of that time, how can we doubt that it can happen in our time? And when we come together as a church, we will understand more about the way to transform the world.
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Jan Nelson is the Lay Leader of the Oregon-Idaho Conference. She was a delegate to the 2016 and 2019 General Conferences and 2016 Western Jurisdictional Conference. Jan is on the Ministry Leadership Team, Jurisdictional and Conference Committees on Episcopacy, and the Holy Land Task Force. She is also Chapter president of the Oregon-Idaho Methodist Federation for Social Action. She lives in Salem, Oregon.