General Conference 1956

Today starts General Conference 2016. For months, years maybe, I have heard our church, my church, the church I love so much is broke. That we are weak and lost and maybe beyond repair. I have heard all the negative awful stories of decline, seen them with my own eyes, and felt it in my heart. In the days leading up to today, I have felt, like so many of my friends and colleagues, a tremendous pressure on my heart, a pressure we are laying very firmly on the shoulders of 864 delegates.

This morning however, I woke up praying. I hardly ever wake up praying as I am not a morning person and I do not have the peace of mind to talk to anyone in the morning, much less God. But this morning, before I even knew I was awake, I was forming words of prayer around General Conference. And I was lighter.

As I came in to the office, the thought struck me that perhaps, just perhaps we are wrong. Perhaps, the United Methodist Church is not worse off today than it ever has been. Perhaps we are not in as terrible a place as the ubiquitous “everyone” wants us to believe. Perhaps, just perhaps, it is our own panic and need to have things the way we want them that has made us forget how to hold in perspective where we are now with where we have been. I am not saying we don’t need to improve. I am not saying that there are not changes we as a church need to make. There are. But maybe we are making death inevitable by seeing only death instead of celebrating the death we have cheated to get to where we are today.

When I came into the office, I pulled out my 1956 copy of the Book of Discipline. (I was given this by a male colleague when I started in ministry who told me every clergy woman should own this BOD. I think there may soon be more UMC clergywomen then there are copies of the 1956 BOD. What a thing to celebrate!) Sometimes I like to just hold this book in my hands and remember how far we have come.

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In 1956, as General Conference prepared to meet, there was no United Methodist Church. There was a very divided Methodist Church. There was a Methodist Church. There was a United Church of the Brethren. There were African Americans who were segregated into the “Central Jurisdiction”, regardless of where their churches were located geographically. There were no clergy women in full connection. Sure, we had pastors who were going to new Methodists who move into the community and making sure they stayed Methodist. Sure, had a million committees that did a bazillion things that reported at a quarterly conference so everybody better look busy. There was way more accountability that, at least on paper, seems better. But we also has trials for church members who bought, sold or made liquor. Shaming people for their sins was the order of the day. Excluding people, lots of people, was accepted and expected, not just in the church but in the world.

In 1956, I don’t know what the delegates were feeling or thinking. I am not sure what pressure was on them. We don’t have blog posts or tweets or emails to tell us their every thought. What we do have is a forward thinking decision to include women as full members of the clergy. What we do have is a courageous decision to remove the Central Jurisdiction and allow African American Methodist churches to join the geographical jurisdictions to which they should belong.

Are we a better stronger church today? I believe so. When I can name more women clergy that I know than men, I say so. When I see the global reach of the United Methodist church, not as missionary outposts but as churches that are part of the communities where people live, I say so. When I listen to former church member tell me how much her Korean pastor has changed her life, I say so.

Do we have much work to be done? Yes.
Are there more people to be included? Yes.
Do I pray that the General Conference of 2016 will be as courageous and bold and visionary as the General Conference of 1956 was? Yes.

In all things God works. Whatever our delegates leave us with, our church, my church, will remain the church through which God worked and works in my life and in the lives of many people I know and love. We cannot let the work of Christ stop. It goes on, regardless. And I am convinced with God and with the people of God committed to doing kingdom work where they are at, the church will only be better each year than the one that has past.

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No Maternal Instincts

“Mothers are all insane.” ~J.D. Salinger (May 2013 Readers Digest)

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I have absolutely no maternal instincts.

My first daughter was born during my last year of college. It never occurred to me to do anything but finish my degree and graduate with a English/Religion major and a dream of going to seminary.

We found out we were expecting our second daughter mere weeks before I started seminary. She was born a week before mid-terms in that first spring semester. It never occurred to me to take time off…I just lugged her to class, nursed her during lectures and handed her over to my roommate (or whomever I could beg to take her) when I absolutely could not take her to class with me.

18 months later her little sister joined our family and the seminary campus.

It never occurred to me to do anything less. I thought only of this profound, important, all consuming call that God had invaded my life with when I was 14 years old.

I plowed on imperfectly, starting as the pastor of a two point charge when number two was three months old. I stayed there as the pastor through two and a half more years of seminary, one more baby and most of the fifth one (who was born three weeks after we moved).

I have gotten a lot of guilt piled on me who were either called to a different life or who chose to follow their call differently.

I have cried tears, not because I have missed things my children are doing, but because other people make me feel terrible about choosing to live out my call over living for my children.

I have been told I can’t do everything.

I have been told that my family has to come first or my children will end up hating the church.

I have been told that I need to wait to take on more responsibilities in the life of our denomination…wait until they grow up and move out and move on. (Which by the way means I will have served the church for 25 years while waiting…)

I have watched other women, strong, beautiful called women, wonder and worry and stress over family planning and how to balance the guilt with our call. I have seen them sacrifice having a family AND/OR sacrifice the kingdom work God has called them to because of some outdated notion that women are not capable of having a healthy whole family and fully live into the calling Christ has placed in us.

I have five daughters and very little maternal instinct. I confess that I am baffled when other women talk about missing their children after a few days apart. I don’t feel a burden in my soul to rush home to help with homework or particularly guilty when I am not there to kiss them good night.

    I love my daughters. They are intelligent, fun, delightful little girls. They are engaged in the world around them. They are curious. They love to be with me and with each other. They are storytellers and adventure bringers. They are wonderful friends to others. They provide an abundance of sermon illustrations. When I spend time with them, my heart is refreshed and my soul sings praises.

BUT they are not my whole life. They do not define me and I certainly do not want to define them. I want them to become fully the people that God desires them to be. The only way to do this is, I think, to fully be the woman God has called me to be. Yes, mother is part of that. But there is also wife, friend, pastor, preacher, lover of God’s people, prophet, dreamer, visionary, and much, much more.

I will not win the super mom story battle. I don’t have the instincts or honestly the will to win that prize. But if I have daughters who become women that love God, love others fully and are able to be confident in who God has created them to be then I will take comfort in the fact that I have done my best with God’s gift of five precious lives.