I spent the morning at the Oregon Food Bank packing apples and potatoes. I was with a group of 12 modern day disciples from the Philippines, Hungary, Illinois, Alaska and me from Minnesota, as well as our host from Portland. We worked side by side to accomplish a common goal. It did not matter our politics, our gender, our age, our history. We were all people who wanted to do something to meet a real need in the world.
I am convinced more and more that relationship is our way forward as a church and world. We got talking on the shuttle on the way home about what was happening on the floor of General Conference and the rumors of separation. We had four very different perspectives about what could or should be done, all arising from our context and how we have been shaped and formed. But the conversation was respectful and we asked each other how we understood the situation. But even more, we have a shared experience that will always be a bond between us, and when we see each other in the hallways of the convention center, we will acknowledge each other as partners in seeking to do good in spite of our differences.
The service projects that have been offered have not had a strong response, and in fact, they cancelled some shifts. On one hand, I get it. People came to be delegates or observe what is going on here in the convention center. And the sessions go from morning to night. People are here to “do the business” of General Conference. (I will save that rant about what is the business of the church for another blog!). I also see how United Methodist Communications have put billboards up all over town letting Portland know we are here. I have not seen the news much, so I don’t know what if anything is being reported on the United Methodists being in Portland, but if they are covering the conference, I am not sure how positive the press would be.
General Conference with all its related activities is pretty close to a three week event. So what if the first day of General Conference each week was about the United Methodists fanning out in the community to do good, to share grace, to offer hope? And what if we did it in small groups so we were working side by side with not just the people we came with, but with folks from all over the world? Would that frame our conversation differently? Would that go beyond the slogans on the billboard to be a real witness to Portland as to what kind of church we are?
What is giving me hope today is the power of a small group to change the world. One in five children in Oregon face food insecurity on a daily basis. The Oregon Food Bank has four branches, 17 independent regional food banks and approximately 960 partner agencies. It serves an average of 900,000 people a year. Today, I was a part of that, and met some dedicated staff and volunteers who are committed to feeding hungry people. The food bank was started because a few people had an idea and said we need to do something about it. They raised the money, found the partners, and created a structure and system to make things happen. We know how to do that as United Methodists. Witness all the schools, clinics and hospitals we started around the world. Our disaster relief work is exceptional. And as the Oregon Food Bank states on their website: it takes cooperation, efficiency, and strong partnerships to fight hunger. We United Methodists know that, have done that, and my hope today is we will remember that as we seek to find our way forward as a church.