Response: September 2016 Issue

Responsively Yours: Time of Great Possibility

Responsively Yours: Time of Great Possibility
Harriett Olson helps lead the 150th anniversary celebration for United Methodist Women during the 2016 United Methodist General Conference.

With apologies to Charles Dickens, the 2016 General Conference was in many ways "the best of times, and the worst of times" — maybe not the absolute best or the absolute worst, but it was an intense 12-day experience with some wonderful times of inspiration and celebration as well as some very painful experiences of fragmentation and stalemate.

Personal highlights for me included seeing longtime friends and making new ones, including a great group of United Methodist Women participants and volunteers. The time was rich with personal contacts, hugs, handshakes and stories. So too was Sunday worship at the Wilshire Native American Fellowship with members of many first nations who were delegates or participants in General Conference. Having the deaconess and home missioner consecration at General Conference and including a deaconess from each episcopal area in the Philippines was historic. Being able to participate with Cristina Manabat, president of Harris Memorial College, founded by Woman's Foreign Missionary Society and still closely related to us, was a great blessing. The joyful celebration of our upcoming 150th anniversary was an absolute pinnacle for me — watch the video and you'll see.

Perhaps because of the stark contrast, the low points were very low. Divisions among us surfaced on various pieces of legislation. The first divisive debate was on the rules of the conference. New technology caused some frustrations. This is normal. However, a lot of time was spent on speeches and requests entered as a "parliamentary inquiry," which advantaged them over others seeking to speak. Unfortunately, not all of these requests were parliamentary inquiries, and the body's frustration was palpable. As I watched and prayed for the delegates and presiders, I began to wonder if there was an effort to prevent the General Conference from being able to do its work. How could that possibly help?

This affected the tenor of the debate on the proposed Way Forward addressing anticipated divisive legislation, especially regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. Several long sessions were spent on a failed legislative proposal, a statement from the Council of Bishops, a request for the bishops to intervene and the eventual adoption of the bishop's proposal for a special commission and possible special session of General Conference in 2018. The debate was sometimes heated and sometimes profound as we looked at our own brokenness, but to me it felt tainted by parliamentary maneuvering. My heart was in my throat for hours on end.

Our church has been through perilous times before, and this is another one. Because of that we must intentionally remind ourselves that every time of peril is also a time of great possibility. God is at work in the world, and I believe that God is at work in The United Methodist Church and in United Methodist Women. I have committed to the leadership of the Council of Bishops that United Methodist Women would be praying for them and for the work of the special commission. I know that you are already praying for our church regularly and fervently, and I ask you to join me in surrounding this work in prayer. There will certainly be a time to act, but it is always time to pray.

Thanks be to God for serving, praying United Methodist Women!

Harriett Jane Olson
General Secretary
United Methodist Women


Posted or updated: 9/1/2016 11:00:00 PM

September 2016 cover of response

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