My first General Conference was in Phoenix, Arizona, USA in 1991. I had been in MCC three or four years as a member of Open Arms MCC in Rochester, NY, and had heard all about what a wonderful experience General Conference is from my pastor and friends. I had also been to District Conferences and loved meeting friends from other MCC’s in the district, so when I made the decision to go to General Conference I was filled with anticipation and expecting it would be fabulous.
Even with high expectations, I can only say that I was blown away.
Worship was particularly powerful for me. I didn’t have a lot of church background before coming to MCC, and one worship service particularly stands out in my memory. There was group leading special music, and we were standing and singing along. The moment was one of joy and high energy, with about a thousand people all celebrating together in worship. At that moment, I happened to glance across the aisle and saw a woman sitting in her chair, holding a sleeping child on her shoulder. Her eyes were closed and she presented such an image of peace.
I still can’t imagine how that young child could have slept through the raucous and celebratory music. Maybe the safety of the mother’s arms enabled the child to tune out the noise and find a place of peace and rest.
I have held this image close to my heart ever since that day. It’s a memory that I will intentionally recall during times when there’s chaos in my life and I need to find a place of quiet joy, even if just for a moment.
For me, there have been many moments at many General Conferences since then, and each of those moments is special for a different reason. So whether you come to General Conference to vote on business items or expecting to learn lots of great information to take back to your home churches or looking for an opportunity to reconnect with long-time friends, I hope you will also come expecting and open to receiving the moments that will stay with you forever.
In my current role as Director of Operations for MCC, one of my responsibilities is in overseeing the planning and carrying out of General Conference. I’m blessed to work with a great team on all aspects of the process, and I’m particularly excited about the team planning our upcoming conference in Victoria. When we start planning a conference, we always begin by asking ourselves what we want the conference to accomplish. There is a long list of answers to that question, but the one answer we start with and never lose sight of is:
Offer a world class global gathering with outstanding worship, leadership training and connection opportunities that strengthen our local churches and global movement in support of our vision and mission.
I’m a big Star Trek fan, and on one of the shows the Captain is fond of telling the crew to “make it so!” Well, in this case I’m glad I can’t just say “make it so!” and magically arrive at the event. The planning and the journey to get there are exciting and I wouldn’t miss a minute of it!
God Bless you, and see you in Victoria!
In 2003, while I was a student at Pacific School of Religion, I was faced with the decision of selecting a denomination to affiliate. I had left the Fundamental Baptist church after 10 years of service in search of a new home. My options at that time were limited as to where I could go as an openly gay preacher. I had considered the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ, but they didn’t feel quite right. I had friends on campus who encouraged me to consider the Metropolitan Community Church, but I asked a very sincere question, “How many Black people are affiliated with the MCC?” I basically wanted to know if there would be a place for me within this “inclusive” church. It was important to me not only to find a denomination that had a theological and social justice fit, but a cultural one as well.
Later that semester an African-American gentleman from Philadelphia came to campus for a visit and I was assigned to show him around. He told me that he was from the MCC in Philly and that his congregation was predominately African-American. “Really?” I thought. And this gave me the assurance that I could be comfortable within the Metropolitan Community Church and make it my home. Previous to this decision I had read the biography of Troy Perry and admired him and his vision to create a space for people who had been excluded from worship. Rev. Elder Troy is known for saying there may come a day when the MCC’s would no longer be needed because many of our churches of origin would welcome us home. As I am sure he now says, as many of us say, “we have found our home and we are not going anywhere!”
How do we make our home more inviting and create space for more people to enter this inclusive church? What are the things we must leave behind in order to take the next step into the prophetic role that God has ordained for us? In 2016, the Metropolitan Community Churches will ask ourselves “Where do we go from here?” We will gather in Victoria, British Columbia to celebrate our legacy and our current leader, Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson, as she retires and elect our next visionary leader. It is our hope and prayer that she or he will take to heart the question, “How does an inclusive church become more inclusive?” As we continue to define our witness of God’s inclusive love to the world, we trust that our next Moderator will be able to not only articulate our voice on social justice issues, but inspire us to seek those who are missing from our welcome table.
The story of our transformation from a small gathering in Los Angeles, California to a world-wide worshiping community will unfold at every worship service during General Conference 2016. Each service will have its own unique focus as we follow the development of the butterfly as it emerges from its sheath into a bold brand new world ready to take flight. MCC is emerging into the world in multiple ways with new leadership, a new Statement of Faith and a new vision. I am incredibly excited to see what God has in store for us during General Conference and the worship will set the stage for all of us to witness the emergence of the new. We have found our home with MCC and this is one global family reunion you do not want to miss!
It definitely had been an exhausting several days.
I left my home and two awesome pit-bull dogs in Minnesota and traveled to Mexico with 20 band members. Our Sunday morning flight was at 4:30 AM. (I am not a morning person!) I was responsible to make sure everyone had arrived to the airport, had their musical instruments, music books, luggage, and other personal belongings. (This is one of the many perks from being the Minister of Music at All God’s Children for over 10 years.) I made sure everyone had checked-in, went through security, and was on the plane. That all went relatively smoothly, but once we got to Mexico, going through customs was quite a challenge. They didn’t fully understand why we were traveling with guitars, trumpets, and trombones. After two flights and a bus ride, we finally arrived at the hotel in Acapulco in the early evening. Now we had the daunting task of checking into all our hotel rooms. While I was standing in a very long line, I was quickly greeted by Rev. Wes Mullins. He swept me away into a worship planning meeting. There were some complications for the opening worship service the next night. We met to discuss multiple options and contingency plans. Some time well after midnight I finally got to see my hotel room. I was so tired, I’m not even sure I changed clothes before jumping into bed – and it definitely was not the Select Comfort bed I am used to!
The 6:00 AM alarm came way too early – remember I’m not a morning person! It was off to set up the worship space, attend more meetings, do sound checks and rehearse with all the musicians. There was so much to do, and minutes were flying by. I have no idea what happened to lunch time and I didn’t even have time to eat dinner! The MCC Toronto Choir began singing at 6:15 PM and Opening Worship started at 7:00 PM. The service ended and by 10:00 PM everything was packed up and secure for the night. I could now go get food. Nope. I forgot, another worship planning meeting. After all, there were two more worship services the next day. Ok, I’ll wait to eat. Once again it was well after midnight. I wasn’t thinking about food, I was desiring sleep.
Rehearsal the next morning started at 8:00 and worship started at 9:45. Worship was creative and inspiring with the morning message given by Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins. Immediately after worship, the first part of the business meeting. I was able to grab a quick lunch before the afternoon session of the business meeting. Then evening worship, another planning meeting, around midnight I ate my favorite food – pizza, and then off to bed. The schedule on Wednesday and Thursday was similar. Up early for rehearsal and worship, attend plenaries and workshops, evening rehearsal and worship, planning meetings, eat if possible, and then bed.
There was so much stimulation throughout the week. And many times I thought I would just collapse from lack of energy. I obviously needed more rest. I wanted and could have clearly used a siesta. Since I didn’t have the time, all I could do was imagine a siesta. By Friday, it definitely had been an exhausting several days. When morning worship came, I was completely on empty. But that morning worship service was different from the rest. The room was dimly lit with images of white, fluffy clouds in the sky projecting on the ceiling and walls. There were candles and soft music. It was very serene. Marcia McFee led the worship and began with a Taize melody singing the words, “Rest, Imagine Siesta”. The repetition of these lyrics calmed my entire body. Then there were more contemplative songs, a Homily by Rev. Fernando Frontan, contemporary readings, and a candlelight prayer ritual. This was what I needed. Even though I didn’t actually have a Siesta, I was able to rest and imagine one. I left the worship service with more energy and excitement than I had all week. I was ready for the day, closing worship, and traveling home the next day. I could reflect on the entire week and see distinctly how each day, while being completely packed full of activities, had a profound impact on me.
I met incredible people, made new friendships and rekindled ones with those I hadn’t seen in a long time, heard inspiring stories, worked with talented musicians, preachers, designers, and A/V personnel, learned new things, and certainly allowed Spirit to work within me to bring me to a place on my journey where I had never been before. I knew I was leaving Mexico very different from when I arrived. If you allow it, that’s what General Conference will do. Those six days left a lasting impression on me. They are days I will always remember. I’m looking forward to having similar experiences during the 2016 General Conference in Victoria, BC Canada.
On July 1, 2013 during opening worship, Rev. Elder Dr. Nancy Wilson brought her brother’s spirit in the room as she recalled his heroism and quiet, humble, leadership as a firefighter with the forestry service. A month before, she and others who loved Dave Wilson gathered for his sudden funeral.
At that memorial, someone told a story of a tanker truck that fell off the mountainside and exploded into flames. Dave’s crew assumed the driver was dead but Dave objected saying, “We don’t know that.” So he went down the mountain just as the driver emerged from the truck in flames. Dave rolled him onto the ground, extinguishing the flames, carried him up the mountain, and drove him to the hospital.
Another firefighter spoke at his service saying that when he was managing a dangerous fire where the outcome was uncertain he would look into the crowd and if he saw Dave, he knew that the day was going to end better than it began.
How many of us would want to be known for quiet credibility and a strong reputation in times of trouble and crisis? Rev. Nancy then said that she can sometimes equate our world to a complex, volatile global forest fire wherein God looks out at the people claiming to be on God’s side, fighting the fire. Looking out into the crowd are many groups of people. Some are seen with disappointment, some with dismay, but when God sees MCC a sense of relief passes saying, “this day will end better than it began.”
In that opening worship, I was brought to my feet as I felt within every part of my being that I am all in for MCC, a movement that brings life to people who have lost hope and gives a voice to those on the margins. The entire week was full of inspiring, challenging lessons, engaging, helpful workshops and fellowship with people from all over the world who are just as passionate to pursue our unique prophetic destiny and unfinished calling as I am.
In October, I was hired as the Conference Coordinator for MCC and am so excited to bring that sense of awe, passion, and community I felt at my first General Conference. We have an excellent team of talented people and I cannot wait to see you all at MCC’s next conference, Emerge!
I have been a part of King of Peace MCC since 2011 where I am active in the congregation and am in-care for pastoral ministry with the denomination. Before being hired on staff, I worked as a congregation-based community organizer with the DART network.
I live in sunny, Florida where I work from home, often on the porch in flip-flops and yoga pants. I love ice-cream and could eat that everyday for every meal if it met all the nutritional requirements. If I could be any TV character I’d be Jenny from Call the Midwife because of her quiet tenacity, but with the dry humor and dance skills of Elaine from Seinfeld.
To hear the rest of Rev. Nancy’s sermon from the Believe Conference click here and go 47 minutes into the service.