Day 4- Walking Humbly with Our God
May 14, 2016
by Shannon Haszard Sherfey [caption id="attachment_5855" align="alignright" width="300"] Shannon Haszard Sherfey and a Anne Detjeu from Germany in their legislative committee[/caption] I was told this would happen – that I’d experience a wide range of emotions during General Conference. From the high holiness of worship where we can palpably feel the power of the Holy Spirit moving among us to the angst and frustration of procedures and parliamentary quandary. Awe. Wonder. Grace. Worship has been inspiring - singing & speaking words of hope and assurance and faith in many tongues, hearing bold words proclaimed by our bishops, experiencing rousing renditions of familiar songs, feeling unity for at least a brief time every morning. Futility. Frustration. Impatience. Angst. Plenary sessions have been somewhat agonizing - new technology with a learning curve for everyone, plodding through passage of the Rules using Roberts Rules of Order, debating how to debate. At one point this morning, our session began to feel like a 3 ring circus where a riot was going to break out. It was actually painful at times. While I was asked to write about my experience in my Legislative Committee on Friday, I felt I needed to get down on paper my amazing Thursday afternoon of hope while I was still feeling hopeful. I am serving on Church & Society B, which is the legislative committee tasked with dealing with petitions pertaining to topics of human sexuality, reproductive rights, health issues, and marriage and family. Each legislative committee met on Wednesday and elected officers, including sub-committee chairs. Our committee leadership worked diligently Wednesday evening to divide our 151 assigned petitions amongst the sub-committees. Today, on Thursday, we chose which sub-committee to join and started our work. Although my first choice would have been the human sexuality group, I felt led to join the marriage & family sub-committee as it was obvious there were too many folks in the first group. For those of you who may not have a clue how things work at General Conference, the sub-committees are tasked with addressing the assigned legislation, and voting to adopt, adopt with amendments, refer to an agency or other committee, reject in favor of another petition or not support the petition. Those petitions will then be brought back up for consideration in the full legislative committee and ultimately a smaller group of supported petitions will be presented to the entire body of General Conference body next week for a vote. I was prepared for an afternoon of rancor and dissent and contentious debate. But as we gathered in our group of 17 delegates, the roller coaster of emotions began to shift once again. Hope. We shared, we laughed, some of us cried a bit, we were kind and considerate and participated together in a circle of open, honest dialogue that I feel made God smile. We treated each other with respect and it truly felt like holy ground. Our sub-committee chair did an absolutely brilliant job of navigating the parliamentary procedure in a relaxed and extremely fair manner, being sure every voice was heard and every accommodation was made. For those of you who want the nitty gritty, we addressed petitions about homelessness, supporting the addition of a paragraph in the Book of Discipline that urges the UMC to be at the forefront of ministry with and to all persons, taking into account the disproportionate number of LGBTQ homeless youth. We supported a petition about divorce that replaces the term “strong marriages” with “healthy relationships.” We voted to support a petition that updates the discipline’s language on rights of racial and ethnic persons and another that expands the definition of family, affirming the importance of loving “adults” for all children rather than using the term “parents.” Granted, those certainly aren’t the most controversial pieces of legislation on our plates. Our chair was wise to start us out slowly. But it gave us a place to set a framework for what our time together would look like. We definitely didn’t all agree and in fact, out of the 4 petitions we voted to support, 2 required the chair to vote as a tie breaker. So our group was indeed divided on many topics. But friends, it was beautiful. We spent time getting to know each other by sharing who we are and what we were feeling thankful for today. That let us see each individual in our circle as another human being, another child of God. Bishop Palmer shared in his episcopal address a piece of Jewish mysticism that describes an angel going ahead of you as you approach another person to declare you as a child of God. We saw those angels standing before each person in the room this afternoon. It made all the difference. We prayed together, we listened well, we shared our stories, were worked through wording and amendments in a healthy, collaborative way. It was as if Jesus could have been sitting right next to any one of us. It was holy. And it gave me the hope I needed after feeling like we had wasted hours upon hours bickering over and defeating Rule 44 and after so many things had not gone as anyone expected. Unfortunately, not everyone had the same experience I did today. It makes me incredibly sad to share that as I walked into the room where our human sexuality sub-committee met, I could feel the tension and I witnessed tears streaming down faces and looks of distress and disbelief. They had not encountered the same justice, kindness and humility. And so the emotional roller coaster takes yet another turn. But even so, I feel like our sub-committee had captured the essence of Micah 6:8.
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?We worked on issues of justice. We were kind to one another, even in our disagreement. Every member of that group was humble. God was there walking the journey with us. Let that give you hope for the future of the church. Even if it was a tiny slice of holiness – I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit at work today. Thanks be to God. Shannon Haszard Sherfey is a lay delegate from Taylorsville, North Carolina