For 12 years the Baltimore-Washington Conference was led by a bishop who balanced his respect for the Book of Discipline with his personal ideology of social justice. Bishop Joseph Yeakel had a motto; I heard it so often in those early years of my ministry that to this day it reverberates in my soul. He said, “Always keep the main thing the main thing.”
At General Conference this year I find myself torn. What is the main thing? My friend Joan might say it is lighting a fire of remembrance with the flames of ongoing reality by naming AIDS and HIV epidemics. Surely 35 million deaths to date worldwide requires a response from the church! But is it the main thing?
My friend Annie Grace from an annual conference in Zimbabwe might tell me again that the main thing is providing an openness for the churches of her country. In Africa there Is an atmosphere that prefers not to speak of sexuality in any form or fashion. How can the church pry open an opportunity for conversation?
My friend Jen might say that the priority is to set the rules for the conference. With adjustments to the language and a perfection of the covenant, we can better do the business of General Conference. Is that the main thing?
On my way back from lunch a few days ago, a young man was standing on the sidewalk giving out cards that had been written by children to a hungry person. To the folks ahead of me he asked, “Would you take a card and give it to one of the homeless in the community? There is a voucher for a free meal in the card. We just want you to give it away.”
Eight people shook their heads “no” and kept walking … and into the building for another session of General Conference.
Let me just say it’s not hard to find homeless people in Portland. In fact, I have never seen young people living so openly homeless. Their sleeping bags line the sidewalks. They gather on the street corners in the evening hours to talk and laugh and share whatever any one of them seems to have to eat. I watched a banana last night passed between seven people, none of whom was over the age of twenty. It rains a lot in Portland and when it does the kids draw together under the bridges. There are a lot of bridges in Portland.
I took a card. I’ll go back for another handful tomorrow because I realize I can’t choose just one with whom to share the gift.
Jesus said, “Feed the hungry; satisfy thirst; heal the sick; visit the folks who are trapped in prisons; give your clothes to the naked; welcome the stranger.” (Matthew 25:31-46)
I’m coming to think that maybe, just maybe, the main thing is simply Jesus.
* The Rev. Laura Easto is superintendent of the Baltimore Metropolitan District in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. She is at General Conference blogging with the Communications Ministry Team of the BWC.