2019 UMC Immersion

Descending from the Clouds

As the journey to St. Louis, Missouri was coming to an end, I peered out my plane window to see the plane descend into the clouds. The plane’s wing was shaking, while moving in and out of visibility within the clouds. If you asked me how I felt coming into the Special General Conference, I would say hazy and unclear. It was a numbness to expectation. The first day was ephemeral, lacking personal tension in the midst of a tense atmosphere of polarity. I was still in the clouds, unable to see the ground.

The following cold morning, as a group of students and I were in line to enter the conference center, we were handed various flyers. These flyers were from two of the conservative movements within the United Methodist Church. One of the persons handing out the flyers asked where we were from. A few of us responded with “Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California.” Immediately, the conversation ended and the person’s gaze was averted down the line to continue passing out flyers. In the midst of this interaction, across the street were persons with picket signs yelling statements that evoked the wrath of God, and on our side of the street were persons singing “Jesus Loves Me.” The cacophony of competing sounds accompanied by someone clearly disinterested in talking to people from California, finally awakened me to the space of tension, which began to permeate throughout my body.

There Isn’t Much Time, So Work Slowly

During the opening worship, as I looked across the session floor which enclosed the delegates, then the stage overlooked by the bishops, and finally the stands where observers waited anxiously, I thought to myself, “O how much good we can do if we all just worked together.” However, I knew I was being romantic. Then again, as persons held up their lighted cell phone and waved them to the song of “This Little Light of Mine,” I was pulled back into a sense of romance, or say, hope. Then during our prayer, the concept of the indigenous posture, “For all my relations,” was evoked through the statement, “We are all related.” These were the moments, even in the midst of dissonance and tension, that I could hear, feel, and see the immanent and inbreaking kingdom of God. My vision was one of full inclusion of our LGBTQ siblings within the United Methodist Church, so that we can all “make disciples for the transformation of the world.” To evoke the essence of John Wesley, my heart was indeed strangely warmed. But as the day’s session went on, that warmth became fairly cold like the St. Louis weather.

A phrase that was frequented throughout the morning was, “There isn’t much time, so work slowly.” Meaning, that the work that was going on in the span of three days was to be conducted carefully. While well-intentioned, I felt that it diminished the urgency of the larger missional frame of the United Methodist Church, especially in regards to those who have been and are currently shunned as the stranger. As the time passed, the work only seemed to increase. At the end of the night, as the United Methodist Church went to go back to their hotels with cozy beds and eat a warm dinner with friends, a homeless person sits on the street with a guitar, with a sign that says, “far from home.” But it was us, me, that was far from “home.” The Methodists around me failed to see the Other, failed to see the homeless person’s body, and failed to listen to the homeless person’s singing. I myself, complicit, and failed. For me, I believe time is up, so please, let us finish diligently.

~ Henry Pablo