There were 1720 pre-registrations for the Wesleyan Covenant Association launch. Several more came in for same-day registration. Best guess, probably 1750, 1760 persons? They came from every Annual Conference in the US. There were people there from every Central Conference in Africa. Two observers from the British Methodist Church. And even two or three bishops (plus several others sent greetings).
It was quite a day. I saw many friends from Indiana, and talked with several people from other parts of the country. They came despite the expense (hotel rooms near the Conference Center for some of my friends were $260 per night; someone pointed out someone else who paid $350 per night -- BTW, I camped at Illinois Beach State Park the night before for a whopping 25 bucks) because they wanted to be part of this.
I had my cynical moments. I've been at this a long time, and I've seen a lot to be cynical about. And I don't like the tweedly worship music that constitutes most of what we sing at these big gatherings these days. That said, as soon as the event opened with prayer, I felt my eyes fill with tears. And my eyes burnt much of the day.
Now, I'm a passionate person. I feel things deeply, and occasionally, I get choked up. But I rarely ever cry -- particularly in public. To spend most of the day at the point of tears is highly unusual for me. But I was deeply moved by much of what I heard. And certainly, God was also speaking directly to me.
For those wondering about the value of what was on offer, I can also say that I stayed in my seat for every bit of it. Those who know me well know that I rarely go into the plenary sessions at Annual Conference. I get bored (and sometimes, offended), so mostly I hang out in the exhibits area and schmooze people about Scouting ministry or something. But I spent all the official time crammed in a room with 1700 other people, attending to what was going on. It surprised even me.
Is the WCA a magic bullet that will accomplish X and save the UMC? No. But it's a place to say who I am and what I believe, and stand with others who share my concerns. Now, at the eleventh hour, with the UMC on the verge of either imploding or exploding, it seemed important to me to be counted in that group. I also paid my hundred bucks and joined the Association.
We heard many powerful speakers. It wasn't a pep rally, or tag-team preaching; each had some particular thing to present or to have us ponder. Still, for me, the best thing was the bishop's communion mediation at the end. He preached on the folly of the cross, and ended by saying that we believe in Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I turned to my friend Beth and said, "I have never heard a bishop say that before." She replied, "I've never heard a white bishop say that before." I corrected myself: "I've never heard an American bishop say that before." And now I have.