As I went to bed Saturday night I knew I needed to worship Sunday morning. But I also knew that five days of more than 1,000 United Methodists was at least enough, so Google and I discussed my options. I found a promising Presbyterian Church half a mile from my hotel.
As I got to the corner where the church is located, I noticed that the doors were standing open. Open Doors, a good sign. On my way into the sanctuary I was greeted by not one but two associate pastors who welcomed me and asked a bit about myself. When I told them why I was in town they smiled and indicated that in a few weeks the Presbyterian General Assembly was likewise coming to Portland and would soon welcome delegates from across the denomination.
The sanctuary was a wonderful sample of architecture from days gone by, enough beautiful woodwork to keep a team of craftsman busy indefinitely, a huge pipe organ (insert your own organ donor joke here) and perhaps the warmest congregation I have ever visited. Several folks came over to introduce themselves as I sat alone. And when it was time to pass the peace they did so with enthusiasm and committed far more minutes to this practice than most congregations would. I was, indeed, welcomed with radical hospitality.
As I sat down I wondered what the key issues were going to be at their General Assembly. Would their meeting be more raucous or more gentle than ours?
During the announcement time yet another associate indicated that beginning next week there would be a series of classes about General Assembly, what it is, the history and a discussion of the key issues.
So even though this denomination-wide meeting would be held about two miles from their church, members may not even know what it is, let alone seek to define their faith by the decisions made there.
As my charming, winsome and humble friend Andy Call preached, General Conference is not ministry – ministry happens at the local church level. Most local United Methodists will not have their ministry changed much by what happens in Portland.