So I used to be one of those people who, at Annual Conference, didn't think the resolutions we passed made any difference. Supporting Fair Trade coffee - great! - but does it really matter Petitioning General Conference about the conflict between Israel and Palestine - what's the point? Who actually listens?
After my time at the Young Clergy Leadership Forum last month sponsored by the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church in Washington, DC -- I get it.
First of all -- how cool is it that the United Methodists own the only non-federally owned building on Capitol Hill? They let the Episcopalians, the Lutherans, the Jews, and the Muslims have space in the building. When the building was purchased in 1923, women were the ones who raised 70% of the money. Granted, they were really concerned about temperance at the time and thought a presence in Washington would lend greater support to their position. While the issues may have changed since then, the fact that the United Methodists have a witness right in the center of power is pretty amazing.
Secondly - our legislated positions as a church (those things that get passed every four years at General Conference) allow the General Board of Church and Society to do advocacy work with the House and Senate. I never realized that we had a branch of the church that did this kind of work. We had folks advocating for the health care bill. We have folks advocating on behalf of the poor, marginalized, and those without a voice. All because we as a denomination take stances on issues in the world.
For me -- this what was missing. We say we believe all these things as a denomination or we pass all these resolutions and it felt like it was just going out into the ether. We can say whatever the heck we like, but unless it gets lived out it doesn't mean anything. The GBCS is trying to live that out - to take what we say we believe and make it real in public policy, in the ministry of our churches, and in our lives.
There's a lot of work to do. One agency can't possibly do everything. This is why it is so important for local churches (and conferences!) to be active in their communities living out their faith and to address issues of injustice where they can. Each one of us can affect change. Each one of us can help God's kingdom be made a little more real in our world. What we say we believe is nothing unless it can be backed up by concrete actions.
I'm grateful for the three days I spent learning. It was a lot like drinking from a firehose, but I discovered I am pretty passionate about food justice issues and how we treat the environment. As it turns out, The Vine's starting some conversations about starting up a Food Co-op because it is so difficult in Haverhill to have access to quality food when the Farmer's Market is not in season, and for many families living on the edge, access to nutritional food is very limited. I am excited about the possibilities of where this conversation will lead, because I believe it will make a tangible difference in the lives of many people - especially as we continue the journey towards health and wholeness.
So thank you, General Board of Church and Society, for all the hard work you do -- not on behalf of the church, but on behalf of those without a voice. Thank you for educating us on the issues, for teaching us how to engage in these conversations from a faith perspective, and for allowing me the opportunity to learn and grow!