Thursday, September 20, 2012

Living into the Tensions

So I know I have been terrible at posting. But there are a few sermons I will put up eventually! And hopefully after the wedding I will be doing some more creative writing. But in the meantime, here is a reflection crossposted at OnFire on General Conference 2012, four months later.

Because we got back after the end of chapel services on campus, the General Conference 2012 class from Drew Theological School planned a worship service around the experience of General Conference for the fall. I spoke with my friend and fellow Drewid Joe Samalenge at the service about living into the tension of General Conference. I spoke about the importance of finding life-giving communities when living in ugliness (see the transcript after the jump). Joe spoke powerfully of his experience as a translator, the struggle between where he is now (Drew) and where he came from (Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe). What follows is the video of the worship service and a taste of how we grabbed a hold of hope after GC2012.

We now have the summer between us and General Conference 2012. How have you continued to reflect on the experience, either of being there or watching it or hearing about it? How are you imagining General Conference 2016? What are you doing now to live into your vision for the church?

Opening Worship and my witness

Joe's testimony and communion

Closing in song

Shannon's Testimony: Living into the Tension

I didn't actually want to speak about General Conference initially. Even just last week I watched the little documentary called The Other Convention that covered the reconciling movement during General Conference, and even though a lot of my friends said seeing it brought back happy memories I was rather upset by it, because I remembered how nasty some of the fighting was--- and not just on issues of sexuality. In fact, I was most horrified by the vote to eradicate the Commission on the Role and Status of Women and the Commission on Religion and Race. I was shaking after that vote and felt as though I had been pushed off the back of a moving pick up truck. And that was just one of those moments of tension that left me wandering around holding my breath, wondering how far General Conference delegates would go before I would not be able to call myself a United Methodist with integrity.

But as I walked out of the auditorium after the vote, Monica, who was a student at Moravian, invited me to come to the communion service with her. Steve stopped me and hugged me. So did a lot of other people. It was human contact, bodies, the bread of life, that brought me back, reminding me that I wasn't alone, and gave me hope that this vote wasn't the last word. And it wasn't.

Of course, this was not the only time that I was surrounded by a community of support in the midst of such ugliness. For instance, many of you remember how Mark Miller stood up during General Conference. He spoke quietly, slowly, and told us of his disappointment with the so-called holy conversations about sexuality that were kind of thrown aside the day before. So Mark asked the presiding bishop, voice filled with pain, to pray for them. We stood with Mark, crying, wondering how someone could hurt such an amazing person.

After worship, we had a witness, standing silently, heads bowed, hands held outside of the plenary, not blocking doors, but very visible with our stoles on. It was so powerful, but so few seemed to acknowledge us. Those who did, reached out to us, blessed us. My eyes were closed in prayer and someone kissed my cheek. When I opened my eyes, I saw it was my friend Jen with the Boston Theological School class. She had just arrived. I moved over and invited her into the witness. Another moment of connection, a moment in which we were lifted out of the sufferings of the present time to hope together.

This happened over and over again at General Conference. I really felt like every day we woke up to go into battle--- and I know that is a violent metaphor, but I felt that way. And yet throughout each day, there would be these moments of connection that would bring a smile to my lips that would not go away. When a friend I hadn't seen in a while jumped out of nowhere and gave me a hug! When a person I had met five minutes before bought me coffee because I was already looking frazzled. When a new delegate friend texted me and Steve trying to keep us awake during the pension debate. And when the young people met late at night, exhausted physically but waking up to possibilities of changing the church. And so these pockets of support in the midst of the tensions of the General Conference lifted me up, gave me life.

I think these pockets of support are important for all of us, whether we're at General Conference, at Drew, or serving in ministry. I am serving a charge in which the pastors of the closest churches, particularly United Methodist churches, are much more conservative than I am and have already shut me down when I try to bring up certain conversations. So I don't really have colleagues with whom I feel safe having honest theological or even just social conversations. I needed to look to my group of friends from high school who are still in the area and very tolerant of church talk for supportive community. I keep in touch with friends from seminary who know what I'm going through. And I've met with some of my young adult clergy peers already for good food and relaxation and begun going to a lectionary group attended by some other uppity leftists in the conference. We need the hope of life-giving communities as we live in the tensions of day to day ministry.

There was a commissioning service for Common Witness Volunteers in the evening in what's called the tabernacle--- a big tent across from the convention center. In it we sang a song by Holly Near:
I am open and I am willing for to be hopeless would seem so strange.
It dishonors those who go before us so lift me up to the light of change. 
These moments of connection, these pockets of supportive communities, at General Conference lifted me up to the light of change. I was reminded through all the stress and through the fear that we can do beautiful things together.

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