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Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr. preaches during opening worship of the 2016 United Methodist General Conference. Photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist Communications.

Photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist Communications

Prayer, worship, and celebrations of ministry are a large part of the work that happens during General Conference.

Christ among us: Spirit-filled moments at GC 2016

 

A UMC.org Feature by Joe Iovino*
May 20, 2016

Throughout the 2016 General Conference, evidence of God at work through the people of The United Methodist Church is everywhere. In worship, delegates offer their thanks and praise to God. In smaller gatherings, people pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit. In reports and conversations in the halls, participants share how The United Methodist Church is the body of Christ in the world.

Delegates pray at General Conference 2016

Prayer permeates the legislative session of General Conference. Delegates pause to prayer before votes and after receiving reports. Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.

Those following General Conference by skimming headlines, watching social media, or dropping in and out of the live feed, probably have the impression that General Conference is solely a legislative body.

While the primary function of General Conference is to enact legislation, there is much more to the story. Surrounding the debates and legislation is an attitude of worship and prayer, celebrations of ministries, missions to people in need, and a loving gatheirng of brothers and sisters in Christ.

Some of these Spirit-filled moments occur on the plenary floor. Every morning, for example, the day begins with a service of worship, at which one of our bishops shares a powerful message. The music is uplifting, sometimes moving the delegates to dance at 8:30 a.m.

During the sessions, what could be boring reports of data, are presented instead as celebrations of the work of God among us. The report of Imagine No Malaria, for example, that launched a new initiative called Abundant Health, included an inspirational song. A report from the Connectional Table included the story of a young woman who is raising money to bring water to those in need. Another evening, the church remembered and repented of the violence of the Sand Creek Massacre, and the presence of Christ was felt by many.

Smaller moments

Not everything at General Conference happens on the plenary floor, which means it does not happen as part of the streaming video available to those outside the convention center. Other, smaller moments occur far from the big stage, and the Holy Spirit is present in powerful ways.

Drummer at General Conference 2016.

Worship at General Conference is lively and Spirit-filled, using both contemporary and traditional music. Photo by Paul Jeffrey, United Methodist Communications.

During the lunch break each day, for example, the worship leaders host a service of Holy Communion in the convention center. The gathered stand in a circle that includes the communion table. There they sing and recite the communion liturgy. A bishop and a deacon lead the worship, and move around the circle to serve the sacrament to each person present. It is a wonderful moment of unity, sometimes immediately following a difficult, even divisive debate.

Other moments not directed by the General Conference staff are also filled with the Spirit of God. For example, annual conference delegations commonly gather around tables in the lobby before the day begins. Their time together often includes prayer and worship. Others moving through the convention center are treated to worship songs echoing through the halls.

Reports and recognitions, sometimes as short as one minute, also give testimony to the Spirit of God at work in The United Methodist Church.

Together the church remembered the ministry of Francis Asbury, the first bishop of Methodism. The story of Asbury’s love of God and passion to share the gospel with everyone is a heritage of which we are proud, and seek to live into today.

Short reports of vital congregations also highlighted the work of Christ through the people of The United Methodist Church. One such report focused on Metzingen United Methodist Church in Germany, a formerly closed church that was reinvigorated when a group of young leaders decided to turn their church building into a rock climbing gym. Today, the congregation gathers in small groups where people talk about faith and everyday life. “Go where the people are,” one of the leaders says, “and bring the people into contact with God.”

A delegate decorates a lantern for the GC2016 climate vigil.

The climate vigil and other gatherings brought participants closer to God. Photo by Paul Jeffrey, United Methodist Communications.

A brief presentation commemorating the 30th anniversary of Disciple Bible Study also pointed to the work of God in the church. Following the presentation, the presiding bishop asked those who had participated in Disciple to stand. Many bishops and delegates rose as evidence of the profound impact of this wonderful ministry.

There have also been worshipful vigils for the climate and water, and opportunities for delegates to participate in a day of service with the people of Portland.

All those moments were planned, but others were not. For example, following the recognition of retiring bishops and the introduction of the new Episcopal Leadership Team, the Rev. Mande Muyombo, a delegate from North Katanga, stood to speak. Muyombo gave special recognition to the bishops of the Congo who have served through extraordinarily difficult times.

Congo “is a country that has lost more than six million people because of an unjust war,” he began, “and I am here to stand to thank our four bishops who have worked tirelessly during that time for peace, development, and church growth in our communities.”

He then shared how the leadership of Bishop Kainda Katembo, Bishop Nkulu Ntambo, Bishop David Yemba, and Bishop John Innis has extended beyond the church and into their communities.

Bishop praying with a delegate.

The bishops put a special emphasis on prayer at General Conference, making themselves available to pray with attendees during the breaks. Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.

The presence of God

God is at work through the people of The United Methodist Church. Some of it is heard when we gather for General Conference, even more than described above.

The stories of God’s presence among us do not stop there. In your congregation and in mine, through people in our community and people in places far away, in big ways and in small, people are being responding the call of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is the work of The United Methodist Church. This is the work of God—the creator, sustainer, and redeemer—in our midst.

*Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733.