Telling our story before taking a stand

May 18, 2016
A delegate prays with prayer beads on Tuesday at General Conference. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

Today’s Inward/Outward devotional offers this quote from Thomas Ogletree in Hospitality to the Stranger: “To offer hospitality to a stranger is to welcome something new, unfamiliar, and unknown into our life-world…Strangers have stories to tell which we have never heard before, stories which can redirect our seeing and stimulate our imaginations. The stories invite us to view the world from a novel perspective.”

The Council of Bishops just brought a response to the General Conference about a way forward. They have asked the body to engage in a season of prayer. To defer any legislation at this General Conference around human sexuality. To authorize them to form a commission that's representative of the whole church to take a holistic approach to the Book of Discipline and explore how we become a worldwide church and be an inclusive church—and when the work is completed, to bring it back to a special session of General Conference in 2018 or 2019. They also asked that before we enter into debate, we spend time at our tables, telling our story before we start taking a stand.

I applaud the Council of Bishops in this action. I know some are looking for an immediate solution: What is the answer now? Let’s vote it up or down. But what I love about this proposal is that bishops are inviting us to be the church! So, here comes my rant about the “business” of the church: Whenever I work with a local church, one of the challenges I see is that the leadership team should be spending way more time in prayer, Bible study, community-building, and discerning the leading of God, and a lot less time in reports, action items, and the minutiae of running the church. The pushback I get is: “We don’t have time because we have so much 'business' to do,” and my reply is always that the business of the church is to listen to the heart of God and then to go and do what we discern is the leading of God. We need to spend as much time as we need on that business, otherwise everything else is just our good idea and may or may not be rooted in the heart of God. And surprisingly, when we take the time we need to listen to God, it makes the other decisions and actions we need to take so much more clear.

So, what if God is the stranger in our midst? One who is holy, and longs to bring something new, unfamiliar, and unknown in our world. How will we listen and open ourselves to that voice and story? The Council of Bishops is inviting us to a season of listening to God and one another, to telling our story, to listening to new stories, and perhaps that will stimulate our imagination and find a novel perspective that will allow us to move forward. I think that indeed is the business of the church. The most sacred task before us is to be the church God calls us to be, and how we live and work together is the mark of what kind of church we will be.  

Of course, because this is General Conference, a legislative body, we are now debating through the labyrinth called Robert’s Rules of Order whether we will accept this invitation to be the church. I remember a story about Moses and the burning bush, and God remarked how unusual it was that Moses stopped because most walk by. Seriously, people don’t notice burning bushes? How is that possible? You don’t see that every day, do you?

For me today, we have a burning bush moment offered to us through our Council of Bishops. What will it take for us to stop and let God—the I am who I am, the I will be who I will be—speak into our life and world?  

Rev. Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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