On Friday, February 22nd Michigan United Methodists joined with thousands of others traveling to Missouri for the 2019 General Conference.
JOHN E. HARNISH
Michigan Conference Communications
As 16 official delegates and scores of other Michigan United Methodists made their way to St. Louis, they carried with them the thoughts and prayers of faithful United Methodists from across the state.
The delegation is a blend of the two 2016 General Conference delegations from the previous Detroit and West Michigan conferences, which united last year. This is the first time the newly-formed “Michigan Conference” will be represented at a General Conference. The group is led by the Rev. Dr. Charles Boayue (former Detroit Conference chairperson) and Nichea Ver Veer Guy (former West Michigan Conference chairperson). They will be part of the 864 elected delegates and almost 4,000 United Methodists gathered at the Dome at American Center in St. Louis.
Bishop David A. Bard, Resident Bishop of The Michigan Conference, will be present at the special called session, as well. Bishops chair the conference sessions but do not have voice or vote.
When asked to use one word to express their feelings as they traveled to St. Louis, several Michigan United Methodists shared a variety of emotions—”Unknown, Curious, Anxious, Hopeful, Reflective, Pensive, Excited.” The Rev. Ed Rowe, retired pastor from Detroit said, “I would like to be hopeful, but….” Nichea Ver Veer Guy said, “I’m anxious, but it is a good anxious—anxious to get there and get to work.” Layperson Ruby Anderson expressed her feelings by saying, “I am excited about the possibility of this endeavor because it feels like something new is going to happen. It’s a historic time in our church.” In contrast to some of the potent anxiety surrounding this event, the Rev. Matt Hook, pastor of Dexter United Methodist Church said, “I feel a strange peace as I approach the conference.”
During Friday and Saturday, Michigan delegates had the opportunity to meet other United Methodists from across the U.S. and the Central Conferences in Africa, Europe, and the Philippines, who also gathered with the same mix of emotions which have marked the two years of preparation for this special conference. Everyone agrees it is a crucial moment which will likely be a historic turning point in the life of the Methodist movement.
The presence of demonstrators from outside groups, like the Westboro Baptist Church, could add to the tension. But inside the conference center, most United Methodists are hoping the time together will be marked by grace and respect, recognizing the common ground which unites us even in the face of the issues which divide us. Hopefully Saturday, which has been set aside as a “Day of Prayer and Preparation”, will set that tone.
In the days of the great westward expansion, St. Louis represented the edge of the frontier for the expanding American population. It marked a starting point for thousands of settlers and fortune-seekers, farmers and frontiersmen, migrants and dreamers who were seeking a new life in the new territories. Today the iconic Arch represents the hopes and fears which were present in those days. In one way or another, these four days under the Arch will chart a new “way forward” for United Methodists as we seek to fulfill our mission to, “Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
For Michigan United Methodists it also marks the new journey as one conference in the state of Michigan as we hitch up the wagons and head for the new frontier before us.