There are very few times in life where I have found myself in a place where Scripture comes alive in real time, but from the beginning of my journey here, from touching down on the plane, riding in the shuttle, arriving in the swarms of color, language, laughter, I have felt enfolded in the presence and passion of the worldwide church.
The whole gang is here–Ellen, Andy, Pat, Bernie, Larry, Sarah, Buzzy, Olivia, Pete, Carolyn, Fred, and me. Edna and Terrell will be joining us this weekend as the plenary begins. Today, we walked through the beginning processes of greeting old friends, making new ones, and attending a series of briefings for young people, women, people of color, and for first-time delegates.
The opening worship had Marcia McFee written all over it–many of you from Louisiana may remember her from her leadership at our Annual Conference last year. The service used video, sound, and strobe lights to simulate the calm and violent storms over the waters of the Sea of Galilee. This was appropriate since we find ourselves surrounded by water here in Tampa Bay. The music was jazzy, and made our delegation feel as though they were right at home. We opened General Conference with communion and a sermon by Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster, President of the Council of Bishops. In keeping with the seaside location of the Tampa Convention Center, worship services over the next two weeks will recall the many occasions Jesus’ ministry occurred by the Sea of Galilee, with sights and sounds from three large screens coming to us across the front of the assembly.
Goodpaster framed the challenge of our work well, reminding us, “We could easily postpone this work, but we don’t have time to form another study committee. Mark’s gospel call says ‘immediately.’…Like the first four by the Sea of Galilee, we have gathered beside Tampa Bay to clean and mend our nets…It is our business because once every four years we have this need to get together to amend and fix the nets we know as United Methodism…It is our mission. And immediately.”
We ended our day with the exciting (*sarcasm*), yet important work considering the proposed Rules for the bar of the Conference. Amendments presented on the floor centered around a number of issues–changing the number of representatives in committees, keeping witnesses from interest groups from having access or entry to the bar of the Conference during recess, and allowing unfinished legislative business to still be heard at plenary by the gathering of 20 (amendment requests 50) signatures by interested delegates.
Louisiana, get ready. This General Conference is going to be one to remember.