By: Christa Meland
In addition to the 864 delegates at General Conference, there are many more visitors and volunteers. Among them are three Minnesota pastors. Here’s a look at who they are, why they’re here, and what their hopes are.
Rev. Rod Stemme: Marshal
Rev. Rod Stemme, who serves Arlington United Methodist Church and Church in the Maples in Norwood Young America, knows the ins and outs of General Conference just about as well as anyone could. This is the sixth global church gathering he’s attended and volunteered at.
His first conference was in 1984, and that year, he served as a page. Since then, he’s been a marshal. Marshals are responsible for assisting visitors and special guests in the visitor and reserved seating galleries and checking credentials to make sure that only authorized people are admitted to the bar of the conference or that of legislative committees. They pay their own way to come to General Conference.
In addition to learning firsthand about major decisions that will impact his churches and getting to experience new cities, Stemme has appreciated the opportunity to connect with people from around the world.
“This is a gathering of my clergy brothers and sisters,” he said. “I’ve always been somebody who believes that the clergy ought to make sure they have a connection with other clergy.”
Stemme said every General Conference he’s attended has had a major issue to discuss and work through. This one is especially important as the body makes critical decisions related to human sexuality.
“How do we interpret scripture and how do we live out our faith in a loving and caring and respectful way? Can we do that even on issues where we radically disagree?” Stemme asked. “For the last 40 years, we’ve been trying to answer that question. It’s about time we answer it.”
Rev. Elizabeth Macaulay: Alliance for Transgender Inclusion
Rev. Elizabeth Macaulay, who serves Christ United Methodist Church in Rochester, is at General Conference for six days—and she’s doing a lot of praying and a lot of blogging (see her posts here).
She’s at the global gathering as an advocate for the United Methodist Alliance for Transgender Inclusion. Its mission: to “challenge the United Methodist Church to live into…being a church free from gender discrimination at every level, equipping and empowering people to transform our church and society into places that celebrate gender diversity.”
Transgender inclusion is near and dear to Macaulay, whose father was transgender and died young from a heart attack after a suicide attempt that weakened his heart. “It was because of the effects of living a closeted life and the shame of being other,” she said. “Shame is toxic and shame is deadly.”
Macaulay’s wish for General Conference: “I hope we’ll allow the Spirit to move through the clenched hearts that we might see Christ in all people,” she said. “I’m hoping people can put down the barricades of fear…and look at each other and talk to each other and see the humanity that’s being devastated by exclusionary policies.”
It’s in our DNA as Wesleyan followers of Jesus to go to the place where people are feeling most distanced, Macaulay said. “There are too many lonely people in this world, too many people who feel invisible and voiceless. The gospel of Jesus Christ is precisely the antidote for that type of despair. If we can remember our DNA as Wesleyan followers of Jesus, we’ve got what the world is desperate for. We have to trust God to let it be fully offered to all.”
Rev. Walter Lockhart: Love Your Neighbor Coalition
Rev. Walter Lockhart, who serves Walker and Simpson United Methodist Churches in Minneapolis, is one of the leaders of the Love Your Neighbor Coalition, a partnership of 13 United Methodist-related caucus groups working toward the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church and advocating for other groups whose voices aren’t always heard.
This is his sixth General Conference, and each time, he’s come to support the coalition. In Portland, he’s coordinating the 400 coalition volunteers present, bringing together advocates from across the connection, and providing information and talking points to delegates. On Thursday, he and other coalition members rallied for immigrant rights outside of the convention center where General Conference is taking place.
“My goal for being at General Conference is to make sure that as we talk about the future of the United Methodist Church, we have young queer people with piercings and tattoos and a very different view of world than the 60-year-old immigrant woman who comes to the U.S. after being in a camp,” he said. “We need both sitting at a table together so that all of these voices are heard.”
Lockhart is a cradle Methodist, and he says the United Methodist Church is home.
“I’m so proud of my church and the really hard work it has done,” he said. “But I’m also frustrated by how long it took for the full inclusion of people of color in United Methodist Church and the full inclusion of women so many years after the suffrage movement. I’m working hard at staying calm enough in my passion and focused enough in my excitement to leave the door open for the Holy Spirit to do something different.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church