Sitting at a table with the ideal church

Gwen Groff , Bethany

slogan.gifI was looking forward to San Jose for several reasons, some more noble than others. Coming from rural Vermont, I wanted to watch a big city fireworks display on July 4th, sing hymns in a gathering with more than two tenors, and take in some great workshops.

The part I was most surprised to enjoy, though, were the delegate sessions. One day, the youth joined around our tables, and we learned from the young man who joined our group about his ideal church, which includes a chocolate bar. I then realized that our table was my ideal church.

We had racial and age diversity, and we represented the most amazing assortment of church models: one led by a white male lead pastor; one with a co-pastor team, a man and woman, both married, but not to each other; one with a woman lead pastor; one with no paid leadership; one with no members; along with a retirement community. The member-less church was made up entirely of homeless or mentally ill people, and their pastor said that given the issues their congregation deals with, they could not possibly draw membership lines between who’s in and who’s out.

Our group sometimes felt like we were often rubber-stamping decisions that had already been made before we came to San Jose. We were usually presented one side of an issue, which allowed most items to pass without much dissent. While this creates a sense of unity in this new denomination, it seems to make delegates’ work less vital. One of the delegates in our group noted, “Surely these topics were hotly debated in the Constituency Leadership Council before being presented here. Why aren’t we allowed to hear any of those dissenting voices?”

An exception to this pattern, however, was when we discussed, but didn’t vote on, a statement that calls for an, “end [to] the practice of disciplining or expelling congregations.” Perhaps because no vote was expected opposing sides were presented, as two conference ministers offered differing perspectives. As a signer of the statement, I thought I had looked at it from every angle. But the statements of the ministers, the reflections of my table group, and the widely varied thoughts offered in the open mic discussion, enlarged my perspective.

I suspect I was not the only one at San Jose sitting with the ideal church. I wonder if others wished we had a little more work to do together.

photo by David Landis