Reflections on General Conference 2019 by Teresa Welborn 2/26/19

Message from St. Louis

It is Tuesday of General Conference. I have been thinking and praying about what words to write here as I seek both to inform the best I can and to share my own reflections as your District Superintendent. So much has taken place and there are many unknowns that we are still living with.
Several things here:
*  Results from votes early on Sunday indicated that the petitions regarding pensions and The Traditional Plan topped the list of priorities for the General Conference. This was good news for those supporting The Traditional Plan and disappointing news for those supporting The One Church Plan and The Simple Plan.
*  I am not surprised by these results. The voting reflects the denomination’s history in recent General Conferences of being a divided body leaning further to the right when it comes to matters of inclusivity. We saw several votes resulting in a 55/45 split.
*  I have lived with a broken heart for some time. Broken because of my own struggle to lead in a way that builds bridges between people who do not agree. Broken because the struggle to build bridges has left me at times complacent. Broken because I need to repent for the ways in which my complacency has caused harm, by what I have done and what I have left undone.
*  As a delegate, I engage in the work of General Conference with a host of people on my mind. Some are saints who surround us as a cloud of witnesses here in St. Louis. But mostly, I am carrying you with me – you, the laity and clergy of the Capital District. I have had the privilege of serving with you for almost six years. In the midst of our differences we are unified in many ways through missional efforts. As your District Superintendent, I give witness to the ways you – who represent a range of theological perspectives – are bearing fruit in your ministry.
*  Given the events of the last couple of days, I would be disingenuous if I didn’t share with you that my broken heart is now shattered. Shattered because of what I experience as the General Conference’s disrespect and disregard for the work of The Commission on the Way Forward and the discernment of the Council of Bishops. Shattered because of our deep divisions that continue to do harm to the body we know as The United Methodist Church. Shattered because while I strive to maintain connection to those who think differently than me, I find many have no interest in striving to maintain connection with me. I seek to be faithful to the calling of my office and I want to be District Superintendent to all of you. My heart is shattered as I see the faces of LGBTQI persons I know who continue to hear they are not fully welcome in the church they so faithfully serve. My heart is shattered as the witness of The UMC is once again damaged because of actions at General Conference.
*  At the start of General Conference, Bishop Alsted reminded us that while we were meeting on a football field in the St. Louis stadium, we were not playing a game where there would be winners and losers. While the conference is not over and while we cannot know fully what this day holds, many already feel like there are winners and losers. If you feel like this General Conference so far is a win, I want you to know that I have done my very best to be your District Superintendent and I will continue to serve alongside you and support you in your ministries. If you feel like this General Conference has been a tremendous loss, I want you to know that I am so, so sorry for the heart ache and grief. I also want you to know that in the midst of the pain, clarity and perspective can come with time and space. This is a good time to take a deep breath, to call a friend, to tend to your spirit. It is a good time to continue being the church that is moving forward in mission and service. It is a good time to trust in God’s promise that God is not finished with us yet. It is a good time to remember the words of Rev. Brian Adkins, member of Commission on the Way Forward, who shared in their report at General Conference these words: “to LGBTQ people in the United Methodist Churches around the world; you are beloved of God. No matter what happens in this room or anywhere else, there is a place for you at God’s table, and no one can take it away from you!”
*  I am also filled with great hope. I find hope in the work of the Holy Spirit that is alive in churches throughout the district. Moreover, as I wrote in my May 2018 district newsletter article, “I am convinced that regardless of the outcome of General Conference 2019, faithful United Methodists will find a way forward that enables an inclusive Wesleyan witness to flourish. I am convinced because such a witness is already thriving.” I look forward to returning to Austin tomorrow and continuing our work together in the Capital District.
Yesterday afternoon during a break, I face-timed with my daughter. It was her 9th birthday and other delegates nearby joined me in wishing her a happy birthday. As I saw her bright, joy-filled face, my heart broken open again as I dream a dream for the church of her future. This morning I joined others for a time of praying and singing. One of the songs we sang was “All Creature of Our God and King” and the fifth verse especially spoke to me as I think of all that has been and where we are and all that will be. I leave you with those words:
All ye who are of tender heart,
forgiving others, take your part,
O praise ye! Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on him cast your care!
O praise ye! O praise ye!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
You encourage me!,