General Conference 2012 has come and gone – an overwhelming, educational, inspiring, exhausting and ultimately reassuring experience for this editor.
Never having been to the global gathering, but determined to go and provide as much in-depth coverage for South Carolina United Methodists as possible, I arrived in Tampa, Fla., April 29 after an all-night train ride. Armed with an open mind, a fresh reporter’s notebook and my smartphone, I was ready to watch and listen – and I had no clue what to expect.
I was imagining a sea of multiethnic delegates speaking in different languages; a massive group of serious-looking, suit-wearing delegates paying very close attention to whatever was happening onstage; protestors carrying signs and chanting; and so many people crammed into one room at the Tampa Convention Center that I’d frankly be more than a little claustrophobic.
Instead, I found something a lot more congenial, more intimate. Yes, people paid rapt attention to the stage, and the swirl of global language and dress added a festive Kingdom vibe to the Sunday evening lineup. But the gathering looked a lot more like a family meeting than a mob scene, the setting more like cozy worship in my local church than an overwhelming pomp-filled circumstance.
I felt the Spirit at work, felt the Global Church made real through everyday people – people just like South Carolina’s 18 clergy and lay delegates, many of whom carpooled and room-shared to make the 11-day conference feasible. The delegates are people like you and me: people called to represent their conference and do the work of the Lord in the United Methodist Church.
I got an educational experience that week. Dizzying, yes – but one that made me understand how our great church works together to accomplish so much good. I learned a gob of new GC jargon: the floor, the plenary, the DCA; I quickly figured out who to follow on Twitter in case I ran out for a Diet Coke and came back unable to determine exactly which piece of legislation had just failed and why.
I watched awestruck from the press tables as human sexuality demonstrators, wearing rainbow striped stoles in support of inclusivity language, peacefully walked outside the bar hoisting signs stating “I’m Queer,” “Young Gay Pastor,” “Discrimination Kills, Love Prevails” and “The UMC Is Bullying Me.”
I saw joy on the faces of many when the new structure for the church, Plan UMC, was passed. And then two days later, I watched those same people sit in stunned silence as the body learned all their work was for naught; the Judicial Council ruled the plan unconstitutional.
After a week in Tampa and months studying legislation, writing articles and dissecting issues nuance by nuance, I understand a lot more about this great United Methodist Church – though you can still color me confused about some things that happened.
But I am reassured by the words of Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, new president of the Council of Bishops, who said in the final press conference of GC2012: “We are one church together.”
Indeed. And together, though the grace of God, we’ll find our way.
Jessica Connor is the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate.