I signed up as an exhibitor, promoting Scouting as ministry. We were stationed in the lobby, so I guess that makes me a lobbyist. There weren't a whole lot of exhibitors promoting things at this beanfeed. It's mostly tag-team speakers and it's simulcast around the country. So probably 3,000 people saw part or all of it. But maybe 1,000 came through the doors in person here.
I did some schmoozing. Heard some old stories that were good to hear, answered some people's questions. One person, who looked Filipino to me, was very interested in our church's Scouting ministry. He was amazed at all we are doing. I didn't realize I was talking to a Filipino bishop when I was giving him the sales talk. So who knows what results may ensue from that conversation.
Perhaps best of all, I've spent a good deal of time with friends, clergy and laity. We've eaten out together several times. I volunteered to share my hotel room with Joseph Mulongo from DR Congo, and we've gotten along together well. I take him to the airport tomorrow before hitting the road for home. And I've made some new acquaintances which may prosper and grow into something.
I'm feeling a bit more comfortable about things, WCA-wise. The draft documents they're releasing are not crazy; I can live with them so far. And the people I'm associating with are good people; I feel valued by them and among them. In so many ways, I'm the outlier amongst the traditionalists -- the only liturgigeek in the crowd, usually -- but I don't feel like anyone's trying to make me fit in. I'm just me, and that's okay with them. They hear me.
The big takeaway from the event, however, is that more and more, people aren't saying "if," but "when" in regards to the breakup of The UMC. The maneuvering you're seeing in all segments of The UMC right now is strategic, as various groups position themselves for whatever comes out of General Conference next May. Despite the plethora of petitions submitted outlining different futures, there are really only two options: either GC20 releases UMs in some fashion to sort themselves into like-minded groups, or it doesn't. If GC20 releases us to fashion multiple futures, then multiple futures will be enacted. If GC20 tries to clamp down and hold us all together despite ourselves, then the church will probably simply blow up -- and multiple futures will be enacted, with or without the blessing of General Conference.
Over dinner tonight, someone raised the question of what we tell serving pastors about readying themselves for whatever comes. My advice was, get out of debt. Even with General Conference approval, division will come at a price. It is likely that clergy jobs on the other side of whatever upheaval is coming will be temporarily scarce in one's preferred venue, or significantly lower-paying. We are in for several years of painful change.
Finally, let me tell you what I didn't hear. I didn't hear a long litany of complaint about the other factions in the church. I didn't hear people tear down others. I didn't hear whining and griping about the way the hierarchy does things. Everybody was clear that we were here to talk about what we were FOR, not what we were AGAINST. People were looking beyond the conflicts internal to The UMC and talking about preaching the gospel, about teaching the faith, about signs and wonders, about what God is doing in every corner of our world. It felt very different from attending our last Annual Conference, let me tell you.