My one prayer for this Special Session of General Conference was that the world watching would see a different, better way of working and living together as a diverse group of people. My hope was that they would say much like they did of those early Christians, “Look how they love one another.” But honestly, my hope was not high that that would actually happen. I am not in St. Louis but I have been to previous General Conferences, and I have always felt that the legislative process no longer serves us well. We are just emulating the gridlock of Congress instead of being the church that seeks to discern the will of God. I am sure the day of prayer and the worship was Spirit-filled. But I suspect the legislative wrangling left that sense of Holy Spirit movement rather hollow. I also know many folks had pinned their hopes on this General Conference being the one that would finally break us out of our impasse as a church. Unfortunately, it did not.
So, what's next? First, we come together to talk and pray and listen to one another. Our clergy are invited to a March 11 gathering to do just that. We knew that no matter what happened or didn’t happen in St. Louis, we are the leaders of the United Methodist movement in Minnesota and we decide how to lead with grace and integrity—and because we are a covenant community, we do that discernment together.
Second, we remember that Christianity is more than 2,000 years old and has had many reformations over that time, and it still endures. One of the things I often say to myself when I am feeling over-responsible for the church: Life is more than work, and God is more than church. I am often disappointed by the expressions of church that I see, but then there are moments when they take my breath away. I don’t know how the reforming of The United Methodist Church will take place in the future, but I do know that there are 360 local churches and roughly 60,000 United Methodists in Minnesota who are committed to doing good, growing in love of God and neighbor, reaching new people, and healing a broken world. So we keep on keeping on, trusting that God is at work and the gospel is shared one person at a time. It is in those individual congregations, through the love of people, that the church is most real. We gather on Sunday morning, and we hold hands and sing together. And we keep being the church the best way we know how.
Last, we do not give up seeking to shape the church to be who we believe God is calling us to be. There will be another General Conference in 2020 when we get to talk about all of this again. And it is in Minneapolis. The last time General Conference was in Minneapolis was in 1954, and it was there and then that delegates made the historic decision to approve full clergy rights for women. I really believe there could be another breakthrough here in Minneapolis in 2020. We start preparing the ground for that breakthrough today with our prayers, our presence, our witness, our gifts, and our service.
Life is always full of challenges, disappointments, and struggles. But we know that is not the end of the story. As Christians, our cornerstone belief is that God raised Jesus from the dead—and that changes everything. Whatever dead-end story we may be telling, it is not the full story.
There is more. There is life. God can and will do what we may think is impossible in this moment. And that is what gives me hope: God. God is more than church, and God never gives up on us, so I am not giving up on God. And I am not giving up on the people called United Methodist.
I am disappointed that it is so hard to find our way toward being that true community of love and forgiveness that we promise in our baptismal vows, but then again, it starts with me. Today. And so we begin again.
Rev. Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church