We believe in prayer: Bishops emphasize prayer at General Conference
As The United Methodist Church gathers in Portland, Oregon for General Conference 2016, prayer is large component of the time together as it is an important aspect of our lives as people of faith.
Prayer is foundational to our Christian discipleship. John Wesley wrote of prayer as a conduit of God’s grace, as important to our spiritual lives as breathing is to our physical lives. In A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, he writes, “God's command to ‘pray without ceasing’ is founded on the necessity we have of his grace to preserve the life of God in the soul, which can no more subsist one moment without it, than the body can without air” (Question 38, Section 5).
Slideshow: Prayer at GC2016
View a beautiful slideshow of images of prayer at the General Conference of The United Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon.
As in years past, the General Conference provides a prayer room in the convention center where delegates and others can go for quiet contemplation and conversation with the Divine. The United Methodist Women have also provided a place for prayer just outside of the exhibit hall where United Methodist agencies and vendors have booths.
Additionally, the Bishops of The United Methodist Church have put a special emphasis on prayer. They are leading several prayer initiatives that began long before the start of General Conference and will continue through its conclusion.
Hear bishops talk about General Conference prayer ministries in this 5-minute podcast.
Pre-conference prayer vigil
In the days leading up to General Conference, the bishops led a continuous prayer vigil. Under the direction of the Council of Bishops, each annual conference volunteered for one 24-hour period of prayer.
The vigil began December 31, 2015, and continued to the first day of General Conference, May 10, 2016. This is a total of 131 days of prayer, one day for each of the 131 annual conferences that make up The United Methodist Church.
Some annual conferences chose to pray beyond their single day.
“In Western North Carolina, when we first announced this and we claimed our Sunday,” Bishop Larry Goodpaster who leads the Charlotte, North Carolina Episcopal Area shares, “the delegation and the cabinet said, ‘One is not enough.’ So, every first Sunday from January until now, churches across our conference have been in prayer.”
Bishop Peggy Johnson of the Philadelphia Episcopal Area appreciates how the annual conference prayer vigil helped inform members of local churches about General Conference.
“A lot of people just don’t even know what General Conference is,” she shares. The prayer vigil gave people “a chance to say, ‘Hey, this is going to affect me and this is really important.’ It was an important chance for the Holy Spirit to work in people’s hearts.”
General Conference prayer vigil
Upon arriving at General Conference, the bishops and their spouses continue to cover General Conference in prayer.
“There’s a prayer vigil going on through the council of bishops,” explains Bishop Mary Taylor of the Holston Episcopal Area, which includes east Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and northern Georgia. Bishops and their spouses have “volunteered for different hours. You can do it anywhere. It’s not in any set place.”
Some retired bishops and their spouses who cannot attend, have signed up to pray for an hour from their homes.
Praying with delegates
The bishops’ emphasis on prayer is most visible as they offer to pray with people during the breaks in the legislative sessions. Pairs of bishops move to places in the lobby of the Oregon Convention Center just outside the doors of the main meeting room. There they pray with anyone who asks.
Goodpaster explains, “We wanted to have a spiritual presence in our role as chief shepherds and pastors of the spiritual matters of the church, and just a sign that we’re here to pray with people.”
Bishops from different jurisdictions and different backgrounds are intentionally paired together. This sends a wonderful message of the role of the bishop as a spiritual leader of the whole church.
“We stand here as a pastoral presence and pray for folks as they have needs,” Johnson shares.
Delegates appreciate the focus on prayer.
“Some people have said to me they really value the fact that we are being intentional about praying and praying together,” shared Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the Los Angeles Episcopal Area. “It does begin to create a different culture.”
We don’t need to be at General Conference to have our day get away from us. We sometimes find ourselves singularly focused on the business before us and, though we are hesitant to admit it, our spiritual lives pushed to the background.
Carcaño shares how times of prayer help us refocus, “It’s a legislative effort when we gather, but to remember who we are is distinct from the legislative work. It’s remembering who we are, and we are a people grounded in prayer.”
Bishop Rafael Moreno Rivas of the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico also sees prayer as imperative to the legislative work. “We think that without prayer this doesn’t function. We need to pray. That’s the oil to oil the machine.”
This applies not only to General Conference, but every aspect of our lives individually and together. “We need to be praying all the time,” Rivas continues. “That’s part of our life. The life of a church is a praying church.”
Carcaño is impressed with the leadership of the bishops, which she describes as, “an enormous prayer movement. We feel the presence of the Spirit through it.”
Taylor agrees. “We just believe in prayer and want God to be at work in a mighty way among us.”