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INSIDE THE BAR: Christina Wright

Michigan clergy reserve delegate Rev. Christina Wright speaks to how she’s experienced bigger spaces for the Spirit to offer comfort and healing during General Conference 2024.

Clergy Reserve Delegate, Associate Director of Spiritual Care at Michigan Medicine

I attended my first General Conference in 2004 while in seminary to volunteer, observe, and serve as a witness. I flew from Boston to Pittsburgh with plans to stay for a few days, but after those few days were up, I found myself unable to leave. I was hooked, a Methonerd in the making, as Bishop Karen Oliveto called herself yesterday. I canceled my return flight, found a room full of other young people where I could sleep on a couch, and stayed for the rest of the conference before renting a car and driving back home.

After General Conference 2004, I was filled with so many emotions and experiences that gave new insight, in affirming and painful ways, about how our denomination worked and how we attempted to understand and move toward our mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

I have attended every General Conference since then, but this year was the first time I felt I didn’t know if I had the energy needed. Five years after being elected, with multiple canceled events, it was hard to believe General Conference would happen. A few of us joked that when our plane to Charlotte was delayed, it only made sense given the delays of the last five years and that we were all still in disbelief that this much-anticipated, for-better-or-worse event would happen.

GC delegates
Rev. Paul Perez (left) and Rev. Christina Wright (second from left) pose with other alumni of The United Methodist Student Union. ~ photo courtesy Paul Perez

While this was my sixth General Conference, including the 2019 special session, this was the first time I went as a delegation member, giving me a whole new lens from which to view the experience, even after twenty years of participation. I often reflected on that first General Conference, the people I met and worked with, how much had changed, how much hadn’t changed, and the people who had been at so many of the previous General Conferences but were no longer with us. I felt privileged to represent Michigan as clergy, joy at seeing so many familiar faces and recalling old memories, and deep sadness and grief at the pain and loss that has occurred in these twenty years.

One night in my hotel room, I found myself searching a Google folder I probably hadn’t opened in over a decade, looking for a paper I wrote in seminary on the fallacy of the global church and my concerns that we weren’t living in the just and equitable global structure we desired. I laughed to myself that, twenty years later, we are again considering a proposal for regionalization that would remove the United States from being the normative experience and allow all areas to adjust the church structure and work to meet their own needs best. We live in very different worlds, and the one-size-fits-all (one U.S. size) didn’t work then and doesn’t work now.

With all the reflecting and remembering, I couldn’t help but notice, as so many others have, that the entire feeling surrounding General Conference 2024 is different. There’s a sense of finally having some room to breathe. I’m sure that there are many reasons for this. Our denomination and world look very different from when we gathered in 2019. There’s legislation yet to finish, and I’m aware there are many difficult conversations ahead. I’m also aware that many people are no longer with us, and I lament the suffocating spaces and the pain and harm that has led to that. While some of us are experiencing room to breathe now at General Conference, others have had to leave to find that space and have the room to heal. I lament that and am saddened and angry that it took so long to get to this space.

One of the things that led me to stay longer at General Conference 2004, despite missing seminary classes and the costs of changing plans, was that I saw moments where, despite our human efforts, the Spirit found ways to break through. Sometimes, it was in tweaks of language that still allowed cracks to breathe in, a place for folks to continue. Other times, it was in the community’s experience of grief and comfort. I saw it in the new relationships and the bonds being built across the United Methodist connection. Those tiny cracks were open to the Spirit, even when we sometimes did our best to shut Her out.

Today, at General Conference 2024, I see bigger spaces for the Spirit to gracefully offer comfort and healing and move us further toward being the church so many of us deeply desire. She has more room in our denomination and is less stifled by our rules and organization. I pray that that Spirit be known and felt even more fully, that She laments and grieves with us openly about our past, comforts and heals those no longer with us, dances with us in the joy of seeking justice, and guides us with wisdom and compassion.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to represent Michigan at this event. I hope that the room for the Spirit that many of us experienced the last several days continues to expand, including across the Michigan Conference, so that all may dance with Her.

Last Updated on May 1, 2024

The Michigan Conference