Observations from St. Louis

Observations from St. Louis


By now you have heard the news from the Special Called Session of General Conference. Your Oregon-Idaho delegates were deeply disappointed in the outcome, a step toward punitive legalism and away from inclusion of all God’s people. As your lay delegate, I’d like to share some observations.

  • Parlamentarian at GCThe decision-making process of the general conference sessions does not work for everyone. Our siblings in Africa has been telling us this for a long time, and we should have been listening. It was designed for an American church with American rules. It does not lend itself to meaningful conversations or to hearing the stories that lead to hearts being changed. It is a process that by its nature creates winners and losers, and that’s not what the church should be. But it is very hard to change.
  • Language is a huge issue. It’s very hard to share experiences and stories and deeply held beliefs when we can’t speak directly to one another. During several of the breaks in the session, I wandered the floor, wanting to have a conversation with someone from Africa, to listen to their story and maybe share mine. But most didn’t look very interested in talking to me. The exception was the people I had met in another setting. We had shared experiences and knew some of each other’s stories. And mostly, those people were fluent English speakers. I blame myself for not being fluent in another language, but that is a big barrier.
  • Donna Prichard reads statementThe statement that Rev, Donna Pritchard read at the close of the conference on behalf of the Western Jurisdiction delegations resonated with many people beyond our jurisdiction. I think that may have been the one thing that allowed some people to leave St Louis with at least a glimmer of hope.
  • Trinity-Toledo new pictureIt may look like this is just another in a long line of general conferences where we have failed to get full inclusion for LGBTQ people, but this time feels different. The pain is deeper and the response has been much more forceful. Churches across the country have made statements in worship and as publicly as possible. And it isn’t just the progressive churches. Churches that may not want to talk about sexuality are saying loudly and clearly that they do not want to be part of a church of exclusion and punishment.
  • Leaders in our conference and many others are looking hard at the options. No one wants to leave the UMC, but it may have to be considered if the alternative is to live under the rules passed last week. There is a lot of talk about something new. It goes across the country, not just in the West.
  • Many individuals that have been waiting for the church to change are feeling they have reached their breaking point. We know that many have left over the years because they feel they or their friends or families were not welcome, but now that stream threatens to become a flood. If there is not a compelling new vision for our conference and jurisdiction, the welcome of some local churches will not be enough to stop it.
It is important for us to talk to each other and support each other. Pray with your church community. Reach out to someone you know is especially vulnerable. Participate in the upcoming Table Talks. If it seems like we are slipping back into “business as usual”, ask questions. But be a little patient. Big change does not happen overnight.  The decisions of the Judicial Council will have an impact on what we do, and they do not meet until late April. Even then, the road forward will be muddy and hard to discern. One thing is clear: we will not go backward. May God guide us on the path of love for all.
Jan Nelson
General Conference delegate and Conference Lay Leader

Photos: Patrick Scriven, Greg Nelson, Ryan Scott

See also:
Statement from Western Jurisdiction Bishops after General Conference

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Jan Nelson

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.

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