"God showed up at 4 o'clock this afternoon." The delegate to the recent General Conference of The United Methodist Church was referring to the announcement of the Judicial Council that shocked everyone.
988 delegates from around the world had spent 12-15 hours each day (and sometimes more) for 11 days in this once-every-four-years event. They had deliberated over more than 1,100 petitions, engaged in parliamentary maneuvering, caucused in attempts to reach consensus, debated the issues, engaged in seriously emotional conversations, and worshipped together at the beginning and end of each day.
Legislative committees met the first four days and spent many hours considering petitions submitted by many people and groups. They worked long hours in serious and holy conversation trying to discern proper directions on a multitude of important matters for the church. Was God not present then?
One of the major issues was the restructuring of the 12 million member denomination. Many people had spent countless hours developing proposals. After four days of discussion and negotiation, a legislative committee had been unable to agree on a plan to submit for approval. After a half day of debate in the plenary session with almost 1000 delegates weighing in, a compromise passed that would drastically change the way the church would be structured.
Two days later, near the end of the last day of the conference, the Judicial Council ("Supreme Court" of The United Methodist Church) declared the plan "unconstitutional and unsalvageable." The announcement caused the conference to be confused and in disarray. The delegate that proclaimed that "God showed up" was obviously pleased with this monumental decision.
Just a few nights earlier we celebrated many wonderful ministries of the church. For almost four hours we witnessed the many ways this global church was bringing hope and healing to millions of people. We saw how lives were being saved, and we were making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Was God not present then?
The conference passed a reduced budget, downsized the general boards and agencies (with the exception of Church and Society), trimmed the clergy pension plan while preserving the defined benefit component, and eliminated "security of appointment." A really solid 11 days work. Was God not present then?
We rejoiced in the dynamic growth of the church in Africa. The conference celebrated our ecumenical relationships with other Methodist denominations and Christian churches. Was God not present then?
Earlier in the week security of appointment for United Methodist clergy was eliminated. Many folks feared that this provision that had been in place for over a half century would prevent women and ethnic minorities from having equal opportunities to serve the church. Nevertheless the conference decided to make this significant change. Was God not present then?
A lengthy debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resulted in a decision that stirred much emotion. We chose not to divest from Hewlett Packard, Caterpillar, and Motorola. Was God not present then?
The United Methodist position on homosexuality has been the subject of much debate for the past 40 years. The conference gave significant time to this issue and after prolonged debate maintained the language in the current Book of Discipline by which the denomination is governed. Was God not present then?
I am grateful that God does "show up." And I am glad that it is not just to confirm our decisions and actions. Sometimes God comes to re-direct or correct us. In reality God does not suddenly appear. We may become aware of God's presence at certain times, but God is always with us. Praise be to God!
Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," May 14, 2012. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.