Once again, we come together as a global church to discern our future. Everyone will go home happy about some things, and unhappy about others. That is inevitable. With 864 delegates from across the world, we can’t be expected to agree on everything. But as one colleague from the New England Conference has said, “We are not the people who agree. We are the people who come to the table” (Steve Garnaas-Holmes).
I like the metaphor of the table; General Conference as a sort of huge family gathering. If that’s our model, let’s try to be as functional a family as we can. Let’s say please and thank you. Let’s make sure there is enough for everyone. Let’s wait to eat until others are served. In fact, let’s make sure, not only that everyone is served, but that everyone genuinely feels welcome.
On the other hand, the metaphor is limited, since there are no mere recipients of THIS meal, but everyone here should be an active contributor to the menu. Perhaps we should think of each person as one of the cooks. But then we come up against the adage about too many cooks in the kitchen, spoiling the broth. General Conference could go the way of a beautiful shared meal, or a chaotic kitchen marked by competing chefs.
Interestingly, the table AND the kitchen are primarily associated with women, even now, a long 40 years after the establishment of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women. That General Conference (1976) was also held here in Portland. That year, 21 percent of the delegates were women, up from just 13 percent at the General Conference immediately before, in 1972. That is, in a short four years, women’s representation grew a whopping 38 percent.
This year, women make up 36 percent of the delegates, an increase of 42 percent in the 40 years since 1976; that’s not that much more than in the four years BEFORE the Commission was established. We are getting closer to the gender equity we desire, but we still have a ways to go. In fact, 36 percent is really problematic light of the fact that 58 percent of United Methodists in the United States are women. We have QUITE a ways to go.
Back to our metaphors. We have a choice. Are we going to gather at the table for a lovely shared meal, or are we going to battle in the kitchen? It is the job of the Commission on the Status and Role of Women to monitor the meeting and make sure we’re doing more of the former and less of the latter. To that end, we will have monitors in all of the sessions, counting up to make sure everyone is being heard. The results will be reported to the chairs and presiding officers so they can make sure to include each cook’s ingredients in subsequent sessions.
Here in the DCA, we hope to highlight at least one “Star of Inclusion” each day – a person or group that stands out as radically welcoming. We’ll be looking for those people who actively reach out to others, who make sure everyone is fully included. I think it’s safe to say that the kitchen in which we will work these next days is going to get hot, as kitchens do. The Commission wants to lift up and celebrate those who actively turn DOWN the heat and who remind us that Christ’s recipe calls for radical hospitality and full inclusion. There’s a “top chef” in this kitchen, and it’s Christ’s table we set.