Friday, May 02, 2008

Good Friday Witness... on a Thursday

Our progressive caucus breakfast for delegates and legislative staff this morning was about 1/4 of it's normal size. I think people needed time to process yesterday in whatever way was right for them. We shared signs of hope and talked a little about all that is still before our coalition. I will never stop being amazed at the love and strength I know through the people in this movement, we've quite a church.
But when I went over to the convention center I witnessed one of the saddest demonstrations I've ever seen. Members of our coalition had staged a die-in at the main entrance. About twenty of my friends were laid out on the sidewalk as if they had been struck lifeless. It was devastating to behold. These people who have taught me so much about Jesus were laying out on the sidewalk and had to be stepped over by the delegates. Of course, this is part of what it means to learn about Jesus also. Some people stopped to hug or cry or just watch.
Inside the convention center, the morning started as it always does, with music and worship. Bishop Jong of Chicago preached and I think it was the best sermon I've heard yet and there have been some amazing sermons. At the conclusion of worship we moved into the legislative portion of the day and starting looking at the several petitions that make constitutional changes to our structure outside of the U.S.A. All of this work was presented by the chairperson of the legislative committee, who interestingly enough, is a young adult. I think he's a college student. For only being 5% of the delegates, young adults have a major influence on the feel of things. Several of us were officers in committees (like the person who presented today and did a truly excellent job in my opinion) and others of us have become regular voices from the floor. In total, I'm very proud of the work and presence of our youngest delegates.
At 10:32, Bishop McClensky interrupted the proceedings and told us that he would be calling a fifteen minute recess to coincide with a witness that GLBT people wanted to take into the hall. I was shocked that although the Bishop dismissed us, to me it didn't seem like anyone left. But just as soon as he told us what was going to happen, our faithful witnesses proceeding from the rear of the hall and entered down the center aisle. Almost everybody was in black and they lined the centre aisle and surrounded the communion table. I'd guess it was over two-hundred people, but I've never been good at estimating this sort of thing. They then started singing "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" and draped the communion table in black. A statement was read that said that the participants in this witness were going to continue being the church and performing the ministry to which they were called. It was read by the Prophet Audrey who as she so often does, seemed to speak with the full power of God in her voice. Many of the bishops moved throughout the hall to be in prayer in different places, some wore stoles, some never moved from their seats. This was one of those rare times were I got the feeling that as a council they were trying to minister to the whole church. And I don't just mean that they were supportive of us, it felt to me like they were really trying to minister to everyone.
Delegates were then invited to drop additional pieces of cloth onto the table. While this was happening, Bishop Melvin Talbot found his way to the microphone and shared some thoughts comparing the church's relationship with GLBT people and the former official racial segregation of the church.
Then, the protesters left the floor and we went to brake.
When we returned, boom, we went right back into considering petitions. But for me, the spirit felt very different after the witness. Personally, I was able to grieve in a way that centered me. I have no doubt that some people were profoundly unsettled by the witness. The people who brought that witness to the church did a wonderful job of working with spiritual power. Typing at 2:30 in the morning, I wonder how the spirit felt to people who were grieving the church from a different location. I hope the witness ministered to their grieving as well, I have no doubt it did.
In the afternoon we dove back in to amending the constitution to prepare for a name change of geographic bodies outside of the United States. In some ways, this process was as deathly as anything we've done over the last few weeks. I suppose the problem was how things were being done, as opposed to what was being done. Once again (and I know this is getting old by now) instead of having substantive debate or conversation, we picked and needled and chipped away at one word at a time and used the same arguments over and over and over and over. It was among the more tedious experiences I've ever had.
Finally in the very late afternoon, a young adult delegate (again) who I think is somewhat of a hero of mine and many, many others, said something like, "I'm a first time delegate and I'm not confused at all. I find it curious that some of our most venerable church leaders are really this confused. Maybe if they stopped trying to confused others and just faced up to the work we have to do this would be a lot easier for everyone." It might have been the speech of the conference. I heard a voice saying, "We're not going to play your games. We're not stupid. Get out of the way because we've got a world that needs God and we have just the church to do it." I suppose the beauty and power of what he said was only magnified by the buffoonery of what he has addressing. Compare for yourself that speech with the endless points of order and information about what the consequence of changing the word "may" to "shall" would be. It's enough to make one blush. A few friends who have been delegates for years told me that it has never been this bad.
In the afternoon we also heard a letter from Bishop Palmer who said that a group of bishops met with leaders of the witness and are starting a conversation about the inclusive nature of the church. I believe more word will come regarding progress tomorrow.
The evening was spent with a few hours of strategic posturing about whether or not local pastors (not ordained people who serve churches) should be allowed to vote for clergy delegates to General Conference. It had to be 2 1/2 hours long. We decided yes. (though that has to be ratified by Annual Conferences because we're dealing with the constitution)
Also throughout the day today what seems like countless people have introduced themselves to me. Some are gay, some are straight, some are grandparents of gay people, some just deeply believe in equality, some are anxious to tell me they "disagree with me on issues", some are bishops, some are kids... most are old. Being honest and getting to know people is a real gift from God. I wonder what would happen if more people had the chance to speak a little like I got to on Wednesday. It makes me sad that the church wasn't allowed to talk about any of this but I have no doubt that we'll go day by day and continue to get better.
Yesterday I ran into a church leader after the vote came down and he rather quickly said, "Stay at the table", which is a church clique. I told him to be sure that I wasn't going anyway and it's my honor to be part of the United Methodist Church. As true as that is, I am so excited for the church to work on it's homophobia. For now, we have RMN and I guess some bishops to lead us in this. It would be nice to take advantage of the fact that we're at General Conference and won't have a chance like this for an other four years. That's a long time to wait, especially given that this time we didn't even get to present our beautiful petition.
One last thing, we're going to have a wedding at General Conference tomorrow! Invitations we're handed out to everyone at GC for a service of two women tomorrow afternoon. We'll have something to celebrate after all.

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