by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication
“It used to be that we all showed up at Conference Assembly to see what we were going to argue about that year,” my friend told me. We laughed together, but I knew there was truth in her statement: our conference gatherings have not always been places for burying the hatchet or beating swords into plowshares.
And now, this year, our Conference Board has offered the delegate body a statement about diversity to discuss and discern together.
What were they thinking?
That’s when my overactive imagination jumps into full gear. I can imagine some people preparing for battle while others run to hide in the back corner of their basement. I can picture some people researching their arguments and creating bullet-pointed lists, using 10-point font on both sides of the page, while others research how to heat a thermometer to the perfect “fever” temperature so that they can call in sick that day. And while my imagination goes wild, my anxiety level steadily rises.
But does it have to be that way? Can we let our imaginations, which often fear the worst, have a Sabbath as we prepare for this year’s Assembly? Can we join God in dreaming about the here but not-yet-here world in which the lion lays with the lamb and the child plays with the cobra, not because the lion has stopped being a lion or the cobra is no longer a cobra but because the spirit and presence of Jesus in their midst has allowed them to lay side by side without devouring one another?
Is it possible to imagine that we could talk about difficult and possibly divisive issues without, well, devouring one another? Our Conference Board—members of Conference congregations who have been elected to leadership—suggest that we can. “As board representatives from diverse Franconia Conference congregations, our hope and prayer is that God’s love for us and our love for each other will call us to grow together in our differences,” they say in their statement, “so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.”
Is it possible for us to imagine that our conferring this November will lead to healing and hope? It almost seems too good to be true. But our God has already shown that he is in the business of “too good to be true:” bringing healing and hope in our relationship with Eastern District after 150 years of tension and division; bringing healing and hope to our conference after the decision-making crisis of 2010 left us shaken and distrustful; bringing healing and hope to Nueva Vida Norristown New Life last year when they were about to lose their building—and bringing healing and hope to our Conference through their witness to racial reconciliation; bringing healing and hope to Philadelphia neighborhoods where we have camped out in front of gun shops, marched on behalf of undocumented immigrants, and advocated for the homeless, veterans, our children. These are just some of our corporate stories of times that God has worked through us to bring healing and hope to broken relationships, systems, and the world.
If God could do all that, then I imagine that God could do this, too.
“And now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is [still] @ work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)