I arrived yesterday in Portland, Oregon, which was no small thing. I had forgotten that it takes ALL DAY to travel from the east coast to the west! On top of that, one leg of my flight was delayed, and when I finally arrived after a twelve hour journey I learned there was a snafu with my hotel reservation. So I spent the next hour searching for a place to stay, which is difficult when a town has been taken over by several thousand people in one fell swoop. Chatting with my Uber driver as I headed to hotel #2, I shared that a worldwide conference of United Methodists was about to take place. He thought that was ironic, given that 60% of Portland residents identify as agnostic. Still, the meeting of Methodists and agnostics has been smooth, as they have graciously welcomed us to their beautiful city. I am more than ready to set up camp here and never leave.
Today is when General Conference 2016 officially begins, starting with opening worship at 2pm PST today. This is what I – we – have been waiting for, as this is when delegates, bishops, and everyone who has helped with General Conference will receive the prayer strands you have made for them. It will be a first for many: the first time they have heard of Protestant prayer beads; the first time they have received a set of prayer beads; the first time they will explore what it is like to pray with beads in hand. And they will have many opportunities to do that, as the Worship Team is planning to incorporate prayer beads in worship throughout the ten days here.
Already, there is great interest about the beads. I have a table set up just outside of the Prayer Room in Ballroom 204. The sign on my table reads, “Let’s talk! Join the conversation about prayer beads! What are your thoughts, questions, and experiences with prayer beads?” It is intended to invite conversations about prayer and prayer beads, and a number of people have already stopped by to chat.
The sign was also designed to acknowledge that not everyone will be excited about prayer beads. There are still many who feel they are off limits, inappropriate, etc. This morning, The Upper Room posted an article about prayer beads, which generated a lot of response. Though most of it is very positive, there are some who argue strongly against the use of prayer beads. Hence the sign on my table outside of the Prayer Room: I want to hear the concerns, issues, arguments, fears, etc. My intention is not to change minds, but to learn.
I’m looking forward to this week. I know it will be amazing to see the prayer beads everywhere, to watch as people use them in prayer, and to hear the conversations that surround them. I’ll keep you posted here, as well as on Facebook and Instagram.
Meanwhile, if you want to watch opening worship – or any other parts of General Conference – I invite you to download the official General Conference “Therefore Go” app, where you can watch a live video feed.
And by all means, please pray for the United Methodist Church these next ten days. A lot will happen, and a lot is at stake, and it will not be an easy gathering. We need to pray that all who are here will be open to the movements of the Holy Spirit and signs of God’s grace.