At the end of this second (long) day of General Conference, there is one word that I simply cannot get out of my mind:
I am here in Tampa working with the Common Witness Coalition, a partnership of organizations working for the inclusion of all people in the life and leadership of The United Methodist Church. In addition to the events of the General Conference, our coalition holds events every day in the Love Your Neighbor Tabernacle. Now, “Tabernacle” is just a fancy title for a HUGE, air-conditioned tent (seating 300+) that sits across the street from the convention center. Each day in the Tabernacle, we enter into the rhythm of the life of God’s people across the ages—sharing meals, worshiping together, and gathering for fellowship and prayer. It is a sacred space—the heartbeat of this diverse, inclusive community that has come together not to change the church, but to become the church.
The abundantly and beautifully diverse Spirit of God has moved in the Tabernacle more times than I can count in the past two days—in conversations shared, songs lifted to our Creator, and communion offered to all by the radical grace of Christ. But the most incredible gift of my time at General Conference so far has been the experience of the diverse and inclusive Spirit of God outside the Tabernacle. First, this morning, as Amory Peck and Betty Spiwe Katiyo gave the Laity Address, we caught a glimpse of God’s vision for the church. The voices of these two women—one openly lesbian and one from Zimbabwe—formed the symphonic voice of the holy, wholly diverse people of God. Then, in my legislative committee, as votes were being counted, delegates from the Central Conferences spontaneously led us in worship in their first languages. And finally, tonight in closing worship, we heard the good news of Christ’s welcome for all people proclaimed by Bishop James King and sang together these words: “God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace.”
Indeed, God is delighting as we are creators of justice and joy here in Tampa and all across the connection. The Spirit is moving, the joy is contagious, and the hope is tangible. But most of all, this gospel of love and inclusion cannot be contained to a tent—no matter how big it is! Thanks be to God!