General Conference 2012 Gets Under Way

Hospitality Abounds

    General Conference 2012 has officially begun. It has been everything you could imagine. Amazing, spiritual, exciting, boring, exclusionary, and fascinating. I'm here helping to represent Affirmation's members and our concerns. And while I was in Fort Worth in 2008 for a few days, this really is my first full General Conference.

Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns is working with the Black Methodists for Church Renewal, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists, the Native American Caucus, and the Reconciling Ministries Network. Together, we are the Love Your Neighbor (LYN) Coalition.

    My initial plan had been to arrive Monday afternoon, relax and settle into the hotel, and get ready for “The Event” (General Conference) to begin. But no, I hit the ground running. On Monday evening, our coalition of progressive and pro-LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) United Methodist organizations, hosted the international delegates for a dinner. I was the only Affirmation Council member here at that time, so I represented our organization. It was an amazing and wondrous evening. We have a large “circus” style tent sent up across the street from the Tampa Convention Center where General Conference is meeting. The dinner had a very Caribbean feel, with a steel drum band and food catered by a local Jamaican restaurant. We hoped to get a few hundred people to visit and eat with us. We planned food for about 350. We served closer to 400 people. The tent was full! Everyone who stopped by was welcomed and fed. No one was turned away. Through Bishop Melvin Talbert's official welcome, to the speaker, and the introductions of the hosting organizations; it was clear who was providing this space of hospitality. But there was no “hard sell” to get people to vote “our way”. No insistence that anyone had to agree with us. Rather, it was a time of showing the Church what a welcoming space feels like.

    Later that evening, our hospitality continued. Due to flight delays, several individuals of coalition organizations arrived at the airport later than expected. So we arranged for a van to go bring them to their hotel. When the van arrived at the airport, they discovered that some General Conference delegates had also been delayed. Of course, space was found for all.

    Tuesday afternoon, General Conference began. The rockin', lively rendition of the old, old Wesley standard, “And Are We Yet Alive”, set the energy level for the opening Service of Holy Communion. And yes, it was kind of impressive to see a double line the length of a football field, of United Methodist Bishops processing into the service.

    Of course, cosmic balance was achieved later that evening when the necessary opening regulations were voted on by the delegates. Sorry folks, I'm not a legislative follower. I could only keep my eyes open for about an hour. But I heard of an attempt by some delegates to forbid demonstrations occurring on the floor of the Conference during their breaks. This is an attempt to make sure that there are no actions like our protest in 2008. Ah, as if the breaking in of the Holy Spirit could be so easily stopped. Our presence here at General Conference is being noticed. We are showing the delegates how to Love Your Neighbor. And if need be, we will find ways to protest.

    Wednesday begins. Another day of Conference. Today the Legislative Team will begin meeting and discussing the legislation. The work of the delegates really begins. The LYN Coalition will continue to offer hospitality and God's Love to all.

Tim Tennant-Jayne, Affirmation: United Methodists, co-spokesperson

General Conference 2012 began Tuesday late afternoon with an opening worship service. The Common Witness Coalition, of which Affirmation is a part, handed out the first newspaper to delegates that afternoon. The complete set will be available here. Keep up with the events by reading this full-color big brother to our past newsletters!