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Keeping a prayerful agenda Len Delony, Feb 19, 2008
By Len Delony Special Contributor
I live in Fort Worth, where 1,000 delegates and many other United Methodists from around the world will soon gather for the 2008 General Conference. Many people on the host committee and beyond have been working hard for years to get ready.
As we prepare, I’ve found two things helpful: Elizabeth Canham’s essay “Pay Attention to How You Listen” in the Nov.—Dec. 2007 Weavings Journal and the familiar Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13.
The focus, of course, is on the different places the seeds might fall, and the type of soil the seeds need to grow and bear fruit. And it seems particularly significant that Jesus starts and ends the parable with the word “Listen!”
The parable raises for me the question of how to best prepare and tend the soil for General Conference. And this soil tending is not just for those of us hosting here in Fort Worth. It is a task for all of us who have roots in this “Methodist Movement.”
How can we, as a large denomination, be “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17)? If we truly are to be the church in this fast-paced, agenda-driven world, we need time for good soil tending.
In the parable, Jesus hits us with a provocative agenda: his call to “Listen!” Even with fewer days allotted for General Conference this year, there is still a great need to set aside times to slow down and listen.
Without heartfelt efforts to really listen—to be present to one another while being present to the Holy Spirit—we become the ones of whom Jesus later speaks in Matthew 13:13 when he said, “hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.”
Perhaps now more than ever, we need an ongoing agenda for prayerful, Holy Listening.
Let’s ground General Conference with a “prayer agenda,” supporting and encouraging delegates to make opportunities for prayerful pauses and Sabbath rest.
The host committee will provide spaces for delegates to be in prayer at the Convention Center, and there will be people on site to pray for and with delegates. We want delegates to be mindful of the need for a rhythm of prayer throughout legislative and plenary sessions.
And there has been a growing community around the world of United Methodists who are holding and lifting people from all the delegations in prayer.
A prayer agenda is not directed at a particular outcome, but rather serves as an ongoing call for all to “Listen!” Such an agenda for Holy Listening emphasizes that the main agenda is “being present to God’s Presence in kairos time.”
And by being prayerfully attentive in kairos time, there just might emerge a greater clarity to discern the new thing that is happening through the Holy Spirit—and the courage to respond faithfully.
Our theme for the 2008 General Conference is “A Future with Hope.” And I trust that we do have a future with hope.
Through prayerful listening, there is hope that we can gather from around the world as United Methodists to tend a soil of sacred trust. With such good soil, there is hope that we might grow together in a deeply-rooted koinonia and all rise with new life in Christ. And with new life, there is hope that we might bring forth grain—more than a hundredfold—to offer the bread of life to an impoverished world.
This year, as delegates gather to sort through the business of the church in fewer days, perhaps our most important agenda will be to regularly check the kairos time.
We need to be mindful of the prayerful rhythms throughout each day to keep us alert to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the grace-filled flow of kairos time. In the midst of the overwhelming conference details, we need prayerful rhythms to open ourselves again to the work God is doing in us.
As we become increasingly intentional about being present to the Holy Presence, we just might rediscover who we are—a people called Methodist, being “rooted and grounded in love.”
Through the ongoing spiritual disciplines of Holy Listening, Holy Conversation and Holy Conferencing, we can discover our deepest roots—and a future with hope.
For General Conference prayer and other resources, visit gc2008.umc.org.
The Rev. Delony is the Central Texas Host Committee prayer coordinator for the 2008 General Conference.