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?