A few months ago, I made the decision to not attend GeneralConference with a class of seminarians, opting instead to finish my finals and my supervised ministryappointment. It seemed wise at the time, but as I sit glued to the live feeds,I realize just how much I wish I were there. And just how glad I am that I’mnot. Being left behind is a special struggle for me, as I hate being left out of anything and have an unfortunate tendency to think everyone should hear my opinions. Why else would I blog?
I first tuned into the live stream of General Conferencejust after leaving work on Thursday night, right as Mark Miller called for apoint of personal privilege. I see Mark every week in worship and hearing himsound so injured was heartbreaking, hearing the Bishop silence him made me furious. I didn’t know exactly what was taking place but I knew that it didn’tsound like the work of the people of God. I wanted to be there, standing besidehim, to show the delegates that we who are coming up into ordination carepassionately about this issue. I was glad I wasn’t there because from my couch,it felt like an environment that could kill a young person’s desire to servethe United Methodist Church. I wasangry. I was confused about what had taken place. I needed a word of hope to remindme that God was very present. I was grateful for Bishop Hoshibata, the bishopin my conference, for speaking about what it meant to be healed. He remindedwhy I keep reaffirming my commitment to the Church.
I still felt the need to act, but I was less inclined to flydown to be in solidarity with the other students from Drew, with the otheryoung people, with other people working for full inclusion. I decided that Icould offer my presence through prayer, so I emailed my fellow seminarians and starteda prayer vigil that will be held until the last day of General Conference. We are praying for peaceful discussion,loving words, and Christ-centered decisions.
After I sent out the email to the school, I began to hearreports from those at General Conference that healing conversations werehappening and seeds of hope were springing up from many places. Those are themoments I mourn missing. I do not doubt that the Spirit is filling every cornerof General Conference, but it can be easy to miss it all the way fromhome. On the other hand, I alsoget to walk away when the discussions become too intense. I can shut Twitter when I don’t feellike hearing everyone’s opinion. I have that luxury, being all the way up inNew Jersey.
Right now, I’m listening to a debate whether or not we willuse language of prevenient grace in our Social Principles and suddenly finalsare very difficult. I don’t recognize the church that I’m studying so hard toserve. I don’t know what our identity is, at this moment. I am deeply restlessbecause decisions are being made that I will have to live out and I can onlystare helplessly at my computer screen, tweet my thoughts, and hope that God’spresence settles both on me and the delegates doing the hard work of Church. Idesperately wish to be a part of the holy conversations –both official andunofficial- taking place in Tampa. I suppose this is the way the process goes,we have to trust that those we have elected will faithfully represent our voice.I’m struggling to believe my voice has a place right now, so I’m going to headto the chapel for prayer and wait for the word of hope that seems to alwaysemerge.
JanessaChastain is finishing (if she can turn off General Conference) her second year atDrew Theological School. She is the incoming president of the Theological Student Association. She cares deeply about her school, her denomination, and how to best follow Christ's call on her life. You can find her blog at The Church Mouseor follow her on twitter at JanessaC