Will Christian conferencing imbue General Conference?

Will the 2016 General Conference be remembered as a time washed in grace because each day was spent, each voice was raised, each decision was made in the midst of Christian conferencing?

Or will it be remembered as it was by Francis Asbury in 1804 when he said, “The Lord did not own the ministerial labors of the General Conference; it was a doubt if any souls were converted. This made me mourn.”

Bishop Christian Alsted, who leads the Nordic and Baltic Area, is one of many United Methodists who are praying Christian conferencing will rule the day when delegates from around the world meet in Portland, Oregon, May 10-20, for the denomination’s top legislative assembly.

“I have been working with the Commission on General Conference and the Committee on Faith and Order to ground our work together in our theological understanding of conferencing,” Alsted said during the pre-General Conferencing briefing held Jan. 20-22. “In fact, Christian conferencing is not just a time set apart for conversations, but rather it is everything we will do at General Conference together.”

Judi Kenaston, chair of the Commission on General Conference, agreed.

“Christian conferencing is what General Conference is all about,” Kenaston said. “We are a connectional church with many varied cultures and opinions.”

“A unified church can accomplish so much more in the world by pooling resources. Because of our size, we are able to do so much more,” Kenaston said.

The Advance Daily Christian Advocate introduces Christian conferencing in “a few sentences” starting and ending with John Wesley’s words. The ADCA contains the agenda, rules, delegate listings, petitions, reports from the general agencies, commissions and study committees, information for delegates, and codes of conduct for the General Conference. 

Wesley said: “Are we convinced how important and how difficult it is to order our conversation right? Is it always in grace? Seasoned with salt? Meet to minister grace to the hearers? Do we not converse too long at a time? Is not an hour at a time commonly enough? Would it not be well to plan our conversation beforehand? To pray before and after it?” (Wesley, Works, 10:856-857)

Alsted added that such conversations are “critical to building relationships across our worldwide denomination.

“At the heart of our Wesleyan tradition is the value of relationships of accountability that strengthen us as we take part in God’s mission of salvation and transformation in the world,” Alsted said. 

A commitment to listen, discern and grow is necessary even when conversations get tense, he said.

“Tension can build when we engage in conversation. We can get irritated, angry, when someone doesn’t see things our way. We become opponents rather than brothers and sisters.”

Delegates to the 2016 General Conference will represent people from Africa, Asia, United States and Europe.

“Any preconceived concept must be put aside if it prevents delegates from listening to each other,” Alsted said. “Discerning God’s way for our denomination must be a shared desire and shared responsibility. We must keep an open mind and listen for God’s guidance. We pray and expect what individually we only see dimly may become visible as we engage in Christian conferencing.”

Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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