By Todd Burris
General Conference 2019 Delegate
The week following Annual Conference, my family and I headed to Dauphin Island, Alabama for a much-needed vacation. Some dear friends joined us, which meant there were nine people in a small house for the week. I’ve never been one to make annual trips to the beach, but I can see why so many people do. After a couple of days, time seemed to slow down. The peace and joy of being surrounded by family and friends is always uplifting, and the toughest decision I had to make was whether to go for a Yahtzee or settle for three of a kind.
One night on that trip, we saw a big storm building across the Mississippi Sound. Having never been to Dauphin Island before we didn’t know the normal weather patterns, and we were therefore unsure if that storm was coming at us or if it would pass by. As I think back I realize some strong similarities to where we are as a Church. We can all see the storm, but we don’t know which way it’s heading. In our local churches, we are surrounded by our families and friends. We have felt insulated from the storms building in our communities, in the nation, or even around the world. The storm clouds of contention continue to grow, and this time we appear to be directly in its path.
As a delegate to the 2016 General Conference, I felt like I was in the middle of a social media argument. You know the type, where each side labels the other as either ignorant or uncaring, socialist or conservative, Christian or non-Christian. Sometimes they throw out all civility and label each other as a Democrat or Republican. I remember thinking, this doesn’t represent the church family I worship with because we would never talk to each other like this. The relationships we have allow us to see each other as children of God and not just an opinion. And until we are able to share that love and grace with each other as a global church, we will continue to treat symptoms of a much bigger problem. John Wesley in his sermon on “Catholic Spirit” said, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may.”
A few weeks ago I was fixing a leaky pipe in my front yard. This required me to lie on my stomach as I was trying to replace the offending section. As I lay on the ground singing the “praises” of home ownership in the heat and humidity, I heard a family walking down the street behind me. Being familiar with the sound of a child’s electric vehicle I realized it had stopped and this sweet, innocent little voice said: “somebody fell down.” His parents quickly assessed the situation and told him that I was just fixing a pipe. But that loving little boy refused to leave again saying, “somebody fell down.”
We have all fallen down. I know I have fallen well short of this calling God has placed on my heart. But yet that little voice refuses to be silenced. The Holy Spirit manifested through a friend, colleague, spouse, or stranger sees when we fall down… and refuses to walk away. I am comforted by the fact that God’s love remains and challenged by the words to the Ephesians, “I therefore the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3 NRSV)