Philip H. Carver shares his hopes that the church truly “go into all the world and proclaim the good news.”
You might be surprised to know that in Iowa, we have worshipping communities with countries of origin like Micronesia, Burma and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The languages of our worship include Spanish, French and Swahili. Pastors from the Philippines, Korea and Sri Lanka serve our local churches. Iowa is not often viewed as a global village, but the people and traditions of nations from many parts of the world increasingly influence us.
If that is true for Iowa, how much truer is it for The United Methodist Church? Jesus said, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15b, NRSV). But the world is coming to us!
As I prepare for General Conference, I frequently remember the delightful encounters I have had with others in our United Methodist family. When I least expect it, someone from a faraway place – Nebraska, Illinois, even Germany – will start talking about God’s grace. Or we gather for worship and sing the same familiar songs, from “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” to “Siyahamba” (“We Are Marching in the Light of God”). We tell stories about a library in Nigeria named for a beloved Volunteer in Mission from Iowa. At these times, I sense the oneness in Christ that God desires for us all.
We have much to learn from each other, but the pressure to get our work done can very easily get in the way. One of my guiding Scriptures for the journey of General Conference is Ephesians 4:2-3, so that I may deliberate “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Honoring God and one another
The task will be a challenge. Language barriers will slow us down. The art of the legislative process is difficult enough in my native tongue. Translators will strive to keep up with our proceedings, but at times, the complexities of the conversation will be difficult to communicate so that everyone fully understands.
Add to this reality the important questions we must address in our time together. As Iowans, we are not of one mind on many subjects. Expand the conversation to a worldwide community, and the possibilities for differences of opinion rise.
Certainly, one topic that has an impact on the global nature of the Church is the proposal to change our organizational structure, still focused heavily on the United States. We struggle with the financial costs of travel necessary to gather together leaders from so many places. We look to the agencies and institutions of the church to be more attentive to needs and opportunities outside of America. We encounter very different cultural perspectives about authority, sexuality and theology (to name only three) that threaten to distract us from our shared witness to the healing power of God’s love.
How are we to live faithfully into our future as a people of God? I suspect that this question will not be fully answered in Tampa in 2012. I pray that we will make strides to honor God and one another as a witness to the guiding power of the Holy Spirit at General Conference.
*Carver, a lay delegate from the Iowa Annual (regional) Conference, is a field outreach minister. He lives in Coralville, Iowa.