As I write this I am taking a short break from the Kansas East Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. It is a special time where all of the clergy and lay representatives of the eastern part of Kansas come together to worship God, pray, fellowship and do the work of the church. This year, the conference is being held at Church of the Resurrection.
If you are new to this church you may or may not know that we are part of the United Methodist denomination. That means we are many, many congregations throughout the whole world connected together by a common purpose: making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are also connected by prayer, our love for one another, and our common desire to do God’s will the best that we can. With all that, we also disagree on issues, too.
This week we conclude our sermon series about what it looks like to live as the Body of Christ in authentic Christian community. At Annual Conference we try to model authentic Christian community, but gathering together also teaches us that even as a group of pastors and deeply committed Christian lay leaders, we still need to practice speaking in ways that are honoring to God and each other. We have to work hard at what we call “holy conversation.”
In large group sessions on controversial issues we are given the privilege of voicing our opinions by speaking into public microphones. We have to think about the words we choose and consider how we react if we hear a statement that we don’t like. We have to think about our tone. Does it convey kindness and compassion or anger and frustration? We have to remember that sometimes we get our way and sometimes we don’t. When we don’t, how do we disagree with dignity? This is hard stuff, even for a group of pastors, but through prayer and practice God continues to sanctify us and God continues to sanctify you. That is what Christian community is all about.
William Barclay once quoted this cute poem:
“To live above with saints we love—
Ah, that will be glory!
To live below with saints we know—
Well, that’s another story!”
I also want to share with you this Prayer for Reconciliation found in the Celtic Daily Prayer Book:
let our memory
provide no shelter
for grievance against each other.
let our heart
provide no harbor
for hatred of each other.
let our tongue
be no accomplice
in the judgment of each other.
–Nancy Pauls, Pastor of Prayer