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Christ United Methodist ChurchOn Sunday afternoon, April 29, after the children lead us in our morning worship service, I will be getting on a plane to fly to Tampa, Florida. I’m going as a reserve delegate to the General Conference of The United Methodist Church. If you are new to the UMC fold, our denomination has a global gathering every four years in order to worship together, to discern God’s leading, to vote on legislation and to determine the policies of our church.

I have never been to General Conference before, but for the last several months our delegation from Middle Tennessee has been meeting and praying and preparing together. Through that preparation, I’ve learned a lot about our denomination, and I’m excited to see us in action in a couple of weeks.

Before I go, I want to share a few things with you so that you can be in prayer for the church. The General Conference will actually begin on Tuesday, April 24, so please begin praying with me on that day. For that first week, the delegates will gather in legislative committees to discuss all the petitions and proposals that have been submitted from all over the world. Some of the most controversial legislation will revolve around how the UMC is structured. There are proposals that would reduce the number of UMC global boards and agencies and change how they are governed. There are proposals to change the UMC’s current policies on ordaining gay and lesbian pastors. There are proposals that would remove the guarantee of an appointment for pastors. The list is long and the work is hard, so please pray for those legislative committees to be open and listening to the Holy Spirit as they do their work.

After a week of working in these legislative committees, the General Conference will convene on Sunday, April 29, for our communal work. As the second alternate from the Tennessee Conference, I will probably not have many opportunities to vote, but I will be listening and praying and supporting the other delegates as best I can. And when I come back, I’ll be anxious to share with you what I learned and what our denomination is doing to spread God’s love and forgiveness in the world.

One of the things I’m most excited about is worshiping at General Conference. I can’t wait to see the beauty and diversity of the church. Did you know that 40% of United Methodists now live outside the United States? The UMC is growing like wildfire in Africa. We’re growing in Latin America and the Philippines. All of this growth and diversity will shape our worship together and will change how we go about our work, and I think it’s wonderful! I can’t wait to see the global UMC in action and in worship!

There’s been a lot of talk in the UMC about “our decline.” The number of United Methodists has gone down in the U.S., as it has in every “mainline” denomination. We do need to examine that decline and listen for how God might be leading us into the future. But there is no need for fear. The church is alive and well. We’re actually growing in many places around the world. Yes, the UMC here in the United States needs to be in prayer about how we can speak, teach and live the Gospel in our American culture. The teachings of John Wesley do have a lot to offer our world, and we should be excited about our Methodist heritage. But we don’t need to be anxious about saving ourselves or our institution.

The church is the body of Christ, and whatever form it takes, it belongs to God. We belong to God. We are God’s church. Of course, we have decisions to make and plans to consider, but please be in prayer that the delegates to General Conference will be governed by God’s grace and not by fear. Please pray for unity and not division. Please pray for God to do whatever God wants to do with us so that all people can see in us the love and grace of Christ.