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United Methodists can sing!

As many of you know, I spent four days last week serving as a delegate to our United Methodist Southeast Jurisdictional Conference in Lake Junaluska, NC. (Say that fast five times.) This conference takes place every four years, and its purpose is primarily the election and appointment of bishops. Now, while I was honored to be elected as a delegate from the Tennessee Conference, I was not sure what to expect. I’d never been before and had no clue about what actually happened there.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that my expectations were low. Frankly, I expected to see the church at its most political, with candidates campaigning and delegates engaging in shade-tree negotiations in between ballots. I fully expected to come home disillusioned and disheartened.

But God works in mysterious ways. Just when you think that you’ve planned and institutionalized the Spirit out of the church’s business, she moves and surprises you! Let me tell you just a few of the things I learned at Jurisdictional Conference:

United Methodists can sing! We had some wonderful experiences of worship and singing. Methodists have always been known as singing people, but in recent years I think we’ve grown timid. We’ve started leaving the singing to the professionals. But when we do that, we miss out on the most primal way we human beings have to worship our Creator. If we would stop worrying about how we sound and just open our mouths in praise, God will move us. In every congregation no matter what our “worship style,” we need to learn again how to sing—not necessarily with correct notes but with full hearts. I was so inspired by the united voices and the heartfelt praise in our singing that I even raised my hands up! (Gasp!)

The United Methodist Church is diverse. We elected five bishops last week, and they were a beautifully diverse group, theologically, ethnically and in many other ways. The more we embrace our diversity, the more we reflect the kingdom of God.

We need to pray. One of the newly elected bishops is Young Jin Cho from Virginia. In his introductory remarks, he asserted that the decline of membership in American United Methodist churches today is, above all else, a spiritual issue. He urged every pastor to spend an hour in prayer every day and encouraged their congregations to support them in this commitment. He also urged every lay person to commit to deep, holy listening to God. If we devote our hearts to prayer, God will do the rest. I came home inspired to spend more time in prayer, listening every day for God’s Spirit.

We have a new bishop! On September 1, we will welcome Rev. Bill McAlilly to Tennessee as our new bishop. On the first day of Jurisdictional Conference, we got to meet each candidate in a “round robin” session. ( As one nominee jokingly said, it felt more like “speed dating” than interviewing.) When Bill McAlilly came to our delegation, I was deeply impressed by his authenticity, his gentleness and his commitment to mission. He was at the forefront of the restoration efforts in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, and that work has shaped him as a leader. His election and his appointment to the Nashville Area seemed Spirit-led, and I am excited to welcome him into this corner of God’s kingdom.

So, I definitely learned a few things at Jurisdictional Conference. Above all, I learned that the Spirit is alive and moving in our church, and I have great hope for the people called Methodists here in Tennessee and around the world.