Perspective from ‘the lady with a baby’ at GC2016

By Brittany Richardson Watson
Special Contributor

It was an incredible honor and heavy burden to attend General Conference as a reserve delegate of the Arkansas Conference. I had a unique experience as I carried my three-month-old son on my hip for much of the two weeks.

Each day Leo cooed along with hymns, babbled during sermons and, more than once, cried loudly during prayers. Being “the lady with a baby” at General Conference gave me an interesting perspective as everyone and anyone who spotted Leo’s smiling (or crying) face would immediately release their scowl and give me a smile or a sympathetic glance. Everyone loves babies!

Brittany Richardson Watson cradles her baby during the pening worship at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore.  Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

Brittany Richardson Watson cradles her baby during the opening worship at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore.
Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

Conservative or progressive, man or woman, American or African, young or old, people like a smiling infant, especially if that infant has red hair and dimples. And so, every day I was greeted with smiles and laughter in the midst of back-breaking tension. As important decisions were made, votes were cast and deals were brokered I cradled, diapered and nursed a baby just feet away.

I can’t help but think that these tasks are not so disparate, being called by God to care for something so beautifully fragile.

The fragility of our united church was tangible during those weeks in Portland. As I looked around during worship and coffee breaks, and sometimes even during our legislative sessions, I became acutely aware of what we could lose if we allowed our egos to come before God’s love. In that convention center I felt the heaviness and tension of the possibility of schism in the midst of a diverse, loving and committed community of Christians. As we sang in different languages, told stories of vital churches and celebrated the success of ministries around the world, it became evident that there was surely something left in the United Methodist Church worth fighting for. Slowly it became clear that this was our task as delegates, to strengthen and nurture the church we love, not to tear it apart.

The gravity of this responsibility became even more profound as I worshiped with my church family the Sunday after General Conference adjourned. As we sang familiar hymns and shared joys and concerns with one another, I wept as I saw the fragile yet resilient community of people that God has called the church. For this is truly what we stand to lose: not a quadrennial gathering of international delegates, but an intimate and powerful community of disciples who are bold enough to believe that God is ready to use them to transform the world through divine grace and love. This is the church worth saving.

In the days since General Conference, I find that the usual prayers I say over the life of my baby boy are now intermingled with prayers for our church. As I pray that Leo grow in strength, faith and love, I pray the same for our church. As I pray that I have the patience, wisdom and energy to get through tomorrow, I pray the same for our church. As I both celebrate and grieve an unknown future for my child whose true potential is still unknown, I pray the same for our church.

Join me in prayer. Join me as we nurture, protect, clean up and cradle the church we love, for it is truly a church worth fighting for.

The Rev. Watson serves as pastor of Sylvan Hills UMC Sherwood.