General Conference Day One
I was struck by a irony during the opening worship for General Conference. There we were, 3000 plus people of all ages, from many nations, speaking a variety of languages. The worship leaders worked hard to create a worship service in which all those languages were heard and the many hued world we come from was made visible in our worship. And yet, there was this distinct moment that it felt like to me as something of an insider and outsider worship and the liturgy couldn’t quite overcome it.
I was sitting high up in the bleachers watching people as they arrived and were getting seated. Many greeted others with hugs and words of long lost friends seeing each other for the first time in mant years. General Conference, it dawned on me, for many was like a large family reunion. Many of these people have been at several general conferences or had connected in some other work in the general church, and one of the reasons people look forward to coming is to see those friends.
It was this moment though where it really caught me. At one point the bishops, all robed in white, stood up en masse, processing to the front. Now I have respect for the office of the bishop, but wow, it looked like the elect, the in group of the insiders taking the place of honor. And as I looked down, I saw the chosen surrounded by blue curtains, where those of us without the right credentials must not pass, each wearing a blue prayer shawl, further setting them apart as special. And then there was the rest of us. It felt like we were spectators to someone else’s party, someone else’s family reunion.
I understand the cost and challenges of space. There may well not have been available a room where all 3000 could have sat together side by side, on one level, no platforms or curtains separating us. But I have to tell you, space made a difference in that moment, and while the words were stating we were all welcome, we all were called by name by a loving God, the space was saying some of us were more important than others.
It got me to thinking, how else do we do that in the church, in our worship? While we proclaim all are welcome, all are childen of God, do we unintentionally give a message this is really an insider gathering, and if you want to spectate you are can do that, but you are not fully one of us, and maybe if you work really, really hard, one day you too can be one of the chosen, one of the elect?
Comments on: "Insiders/Outsiders" (9)
Thanks for your post. As a past page at GC I can see what you are describing! It reminds me of the slave balconies found throughout our southeastern jurisdictional churches.
Cindy, I’ve thought the same thing. I wonder how much more it would cost to have a worship setting distinct from the business setting. Then at worship people could all be mixed: delegates, observers, laity, clergy, bishops, staff, etc. That would be a more powerful worship setting. Could it be done at the opposite end of the same room? I am sure the screens and projectors and microphones, etc. would need some duplication.
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We actually do that at our annual conference…have a separate worship space from meeting space and it makes a difference. I appreciate that even more now that we do that.
I wish we did at our annual conference. We do for ordination and memorial worship services, but it seems appropriate at all worship services, especially when people are sitting at conference tables.
Cindy, so as I read this: “At one point the bishops, all robed in white, stood up en masse, processing to the front. Now I have respect for the office of the bishop, but wow, it looked like the elect, the in group of the insiders taking the place of honor.” I would love to hear your reflection on our service of ordination? I understand the connection and the covenant between us, but this is the feeling I have always got with that service too…. tough balance because I know the “set-apart” nature of the role but wonder about how that might be re-defined….just curious to hear your thoughts.
I have been thinking about that too. One one hand ordination is all about the clergy and therefore to have the covenant of clergy participate in a unique way makes some sense. But on the other hand, in this day and age, is the distinction between clergy and lay one that is less and less helpful. If I go to a worship at a monastery, I know that I am guest, observing their worship. And I am ok with that. General Conference is supposed to be the world wide gathering of the people called United Methdist and can we do a better job of embodying that even as some have been set apart for particular work and calling? Even at some monasteries the monks will practice hospitality in that if you are new, one will come and sit with you and help you make your way through the liturgy. So what does worship look like that truly embodies the laos…all the people of God.
Great thoughts and reflections. I especially like the hospitality part about the monks. Hope your time in Tampa is going well.
I grew up in the Methodist church, and I’m thinking, I could not even get ordained in the church of my childhood since i’m gay, and have been Lutheran for many years (same difficulty with ordination in the ELCA despite their change in rules). So I can appreciate the feeling of insider/outsider! I appreciate your sensitivity to space and how spaces can become privileged and closed in worship. It occurs to me that some people revel in the spectacle of the “big people” making the worship somehow more of a big deal than just 2 or 3 gathering in Jesus’ name. That is probably idolatry! But people enjoy spectacle, even in worship. I think that may introduce further complications if that spectacle is on us and not on Jesus, beyond not feeling fully included. Imagine making Jesus an outsider in worship through an overly spectacular worship service.