I spent the morning at the Oregon Food Bank packing apples and potatoes. I was with a group of 12 modern-day disciples from the Philippines, Hungary, Illinois, and Alaska, then there was me from Minnesota and our host from Portland. We worked side-by-side to accomplish a common goal. Our politics, our gender, our age, and our history did not matter. We were all people who wanted to do something to meet a real need in the world.
I am convinced more and more that relationship is our way forward as a church and world. We got to talking on the shuttle on the way home about what was happening on the floor of General Conference and the rumors of separation. We had four very different perspectives about what could or should be done, all arising from our context and how we have been shaped and formed. But the conversation was respectful, and we asked each other how we understood the situation. But even more, we now have a shared experience that will always serve as a bond between us, and when we see each other in the hallways of the convention center, we will acknowledge each other as partners in seeking to do good in spite of our differences.
The service projects that have been offered have not had a strong response, and in fact, they cancelled some shifts. On one hand, I get it. People came to be delegates or observe what is going on here in the convention center. And the sessions go from morning to night. People are here to “do the business” of General Conference. (I will save the rant about what the business of the church is for another blog post!). I also see that United Methodist Communications put billboards up all over town, letting Portland know we are here. I have not seen the news much, so I don’t know what, if anything, is being reported on the United Methodists being in Portland, but if media are covering the conference, I am not sure how positive the press would be.
General Conference, with all its related activities, is pretty close to a three-week event. So what if the first day of General Conference each week was about United Methodists fanning out in the community to do good, to share grace, to offer hope? And what if we did it in small groups so we were working side-by-side with not just the people we came with, but with folks from all over the world? Would that frame our conversation differently? Would that go beyond the slogans on the billboard to be a real witness to Portland as to what kind of church we are?
What is giving me hope today is the power of a small group to change the world. One in five children in Oregon faces food insecurity on a daily basis. The Oregon Food Bank has four branches, 17 independent regional food banks, and approximately 960 partner agencies. It serves an average of 900,000 people a year. Today, I was part of that and met some dedicated staff and volunteers who are committed to feeding hungry people. The food bank was started because a few people had an idea and said they needed to do something about it. They raised money, found partners, and created a structure and system to make things happen.
We know how to do that as United Methodists. Think of all the schools, clinics, and hospitals we started around the world. Our disaster relief work is exceptional. And as the Oregon Food Bank states on its website: It takes cooperation, efficiency, and strong partnerships to fight hunger. We United Methodists know that, we have done that, and my hope today is we will remember that as we seek to find our way forward as a church.
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