Throughout my life, I have been intentional about making relationships with those older than me. My parents grew up in Kansas, and growing up I only saw relatives once or twice a year, so I had a lot of surrogate uncles, aunts, and grandparents in Tennessee to help raise me. I am indebted to all of them.
I have attended 6 General Conferences, and served as a reserve delegate at two of them. Over the years I have met a lot of wonderful people, and I know many of you know these folks better than me:
- Hoyt Hickman, a former General Board of Discipleship worship resource director, is an Order of St. Luke brother and sponsored me for life vows in the Order. I can't begin to tell you how many people he introduced me to at General Conferences over the years.
- Yesterday David Reed introduced me to Nan Self - the first General Secretary of COSROW and a living legend - and today we enjoyed wonderful conversation around a table as I heard wonderful stories and testimonies of her ministry.
- I saw Maxie Dunnam at a break, and we had a wonderful conversation. Maxie encouraged me when I was ordained and joined the Memphis Conference, and still encourages me today. Any of you who know Maxie know what it is like to be "Maxied" - that smile, hug, and his kind words are always a blessing.
- And I was blessed to share lunch with Tom Albin from the Upper Room. When Tom prays, you've been in conversation with the Lord.
If you know any of these folks, you know they differ in theology and practice of ministry. You also know how much they love the Lord. I can't begin to tell you how much I have grown in faith and had my call to discipleship shaped by these and other wonderful souls. Such are the blessings of our very diverse but wonderful church, and they are hopeful signs for the future of our church.
But I'm also benefitting from relationships with younger people. I mentored Ben Stilwell-Hernandez as a candidate for ministry many years ago - a young man who overcame a hearing disability, did VIM work in Puerto Rico, learned Spanish, and ended up going to seminary there. He now pastors a multi-ethnic congregation in Florida. I told one too many stories about "young Ben" and he paid me a backhanded compliment that I thoroughly deserved: "Sky was the first pastor I ever heard say the words '%@$#' and '&!£.'" After everyone at the lunch table broke up (during which I said a quick prayer of repentance), he clarified, "He was real, and I needed real." And I was most honored. Ben, and other young pastors like him, are also hopeful signs for the future of our church.
I wrote a blog about four years ago (click here) that talked about legacy and how we stand on the shoulders of giants, and I am thinking about the Methodist leaders who have helped us get this far. Yet their ability to lead us came from their willingness to be led by Jesus and be real -and being thus led sometimes took them down difficult paths for the sake of the Kingdom. Their legacy inspires us - and also nudges us to do the same. Our prayer is the only check-and-balance we have to be sure that we are doing God's will rather than our own, and be willing to go wherever God directs us.
When we pray, we sometimes talk too much.
We want to tell you what we want,
we want to ask you for this and that,
we want you to act in such-and-such situation.
We monopolize the conversation and don't let you get a word in edgewise.
Forgive us, O Lord.
Remind us that by your design you gave us two ears to hear and only one mouth to speak.
Help us to know that to pray is to listen:
And that by doing so, we find your will for us.
In Jesus' name. Amen.