“I keep thinking of our Sunday worship closing: ‘We will go out to be God’s people in the world.’ That’s the perfect connection with what General Conference does — literally.”
— Bliss Dodd, FUMCFW member and delegate at three General Conferences
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, lived by three basic rules: 1) Do no harm, 2) Do good, and 3) Stay in love with God. If you were in traditional worship this past Sunday, you will have heard Dr. Bruster’s sermon that spoke to this way of living. As God’s people, we can join together to make a difference — here at FUMCFW and around the world.
General Conference, the top policy-making body of the United Methodist Church, is an important worldwide gathering of our church. Every four years, the conference meets to revise church law; adopt resolutions on current moral, social, public policy, and economic issues; and approve plans and budgets for churchwide programs. Bliss Dodd, FUMCFW member and delegate at three General Conferences, describes it as when we all come together as United Methodists and make decisions about where we stand on certain social issues. Senior Pastor Dr. Tim Bruster will be proposing changes in the way the denomination is organized for legislation. (Click here to read more about Dr. Bruster’s role in the 2016 General Conference.) Bliss says this will be a major decision this year, and it may create opportunities to make United Methodism more relevant in diverse cultures throughout the world. In addition, financial decisions are made, which she sees as something big that “people in the pews would be interested in.” The following stories demonstrate some of the ways General Conference has made a difference over the years Bliss has been involved.
Feeding the Hungry
When Bliss began serving on our General Conference as a delegate in 2000, she saw firsthand the differences and misunderstandings from one culture to another. As the committee discussed social issues, a man from the Democratic Republic of Congo made his way to the microphone and — between tears — made a desperate plea for help. He had made dangerous sacrifices to get to the conference in hopes of aiding his country, whose people were victims of a war that had been raging for many years. The rebels had killed the animals and ravaged the fields of crops, leaving people starving, and women were being attacked and killed in gruesome ways.
This man came from a country where religious leaders are highly respected and have the most influence in talking to political leaders, so it made sense to him that — after all of his efforts to come to the conference — it would be easy for the committee to influence President Clinton to send U.S. troops to end the war in his country. “I wish I could have a lifetime of experiences with people from around the world because it always amazes me what people expect from the U.S. and our leadership,” Bliss says.
However, the committee was at a loss for how to help him understand that this wasn’t something they could easily do — if they could even accomplish it at all. In his disappointment, the man sat down in an empty chair beside Bliss, fell down on the floor next to her knees, and used her lap like an altar as he wept loudly. “There was so much despair from that man,” Bliss recalls. “As a delegate, I felt helpless and had no idea what to do to help him.” A tearful observer standing nearby stepped forward spontaneously and began to sing a song in her native tongue. Afterward, she looked at the man and said, “This is my people’s song of sorrow.”
The next day, the committee came together to revisit the man’s resolution. They prayed and discussed it, and prayed and discussed it, all morning. The man had said only religious leaders could get through to the leaders of the rebel forces without being killed. The group put their heads together and thought of several religious leaders — from Methodist to Catholic to Baptist and more — to join as a group and ask the rebel leaders to allow them to help the hungry. According to Bliss, not only did the conference turn the idea into a reality, it opened new ways for the U.N. to get food through to those who were not fighting but suffering. What’s more, the U.N. has continued to use this same model wherever people are starving and isolated due to war.
Building a Community
Another issue that was called to attention during the same conference was the termites that would eat up grass huts in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The people became nomadic as they ran from these termites, so they had no way to settle as a community and as a church. United Methodist Churches in Central Texas had provided tin roofs to cover their houses, church, and school so the termites could not destroy them. This allowed the people to stay in one place to raise crops, teach nutrition, and build their community.
During the General Conference, the bishop of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) came up to Bliss and said he wanted the Central Texas delegates to meet the DRC delegates outside during lunch. When the Central Texas delegates arrived, the DRC delegates had formed a circle of dancing and cheering as they walked up. “They opened their circle and welcomed us in,” Bliss remembers. “The bishop told us they were expressing their gratitude for what our conference did for them.” Bliss says our leaders came back and told the story, and we have been attached to the Democratic Republic of Congo ever since.
Impacting the War
Another conference really stood out to Bliss on a personal level because her son was fighting in Iraq at the time. She would watch the evening news every day and see shots of our forces fighting, and then she would go into the committee about war and our stance on it. “As a mother of a son who was fighting and a church member who was on a committee dealing with issues of war at the same time, that will always be what I will remember about that conference,” Bliss declares.
She says it made her feel like she had a little bit of influence since the General Conference brings issues of war to Washington legislators. “It was gripping,” Bliss adds. “It made me so proud of my church that we had the insight and drive and commitment to translate the teachings of Christ into daily life and world events that were critical where people feel so helpless.”
Playing Your Part
The 2016 United Methodist General Conference will be held in Portland, Oregon, from May 10 – 20, and we want you to be in the know about it. What will be the issues before this General Conference? Where do we stand on these issues as a diverse faith community? How can we “pray and discuss, pray and discuss, pray and discuss” in support of those who will be gathering to deliberate over this conference’s decisions and initiatives?
Dr. Tim Bruster, Leader of the Central Texas Conference 2016 General Conference Delegation, and Mr. Tom Harkrider, First-Elected Lay Delegate, will be leading a special informational meeting in Wesley Hall on Sunday, February 7, at 9:30 am and during eleven:eleven celebration. As a follow-up to these churchwide presentations, including a time for questions, our General Conference Task Force will offer two special “Luncheon and Dialogue Gatherings.” The first gathering will be led by Dr. Rebecca Miles and task force members on Sunday, February 21. The second gathering will be led by Darcy Deupree, member of the delegation, and task force members on Sunday, March 6. Both gatherings will take place at noon in Room 350, and there will be a $5 charge at the door for a box lunch.
Please join us for all of these important sessions to find out more about our General Conference. As Bliss puts it, it’s about learning Methodism. “We’ve made a commitment to being United Methodists, so General Conference helps us understand what that means,” she explains. “It is the only body that can act officially as the church and speak for United Methodists.”
For more information, contact Rev. Chuck Graff (firstname.lastname@example.org) at 817/339-5065.