Monday, August 29, 2011

Fumata Bianca in the Methodist Church

I did a lot of this over the weekend (photo courtesy of Dan Zane)
When the weekend is too busy to allow time to post to my blog, then there should be a lot to write about on Monday morning. True, but now I'm behind across the board so we'll have to make this brief.
  • Naomi and Craig will be without power for several days, due to Hurricane Irene's visit to Connecticut; but they made it through with no real damage. Their challenge is water, as their well relies on electricity for the pump.
  • Andrew is back home in Italy after a week in Germany and a side-trip to Switzerland. His command will be busy if the U.S. get's involved with humanitarian aid in Libya, so there's a lot of work right now in the planning arena.
  • Then it was one party after another with our church family. Bon voyage; retirement; celebration; reception; "topping-out" the new building. We spent Sunday afternoon looking after Micah and Liam (4 & 2) and finished out by launching the new year for  our "small" group in the evening.

Florida Annual Conference Delegates at work
But today's post is actually work-related. Sometimes my role as a writer affords me an inside look at people and events that is a  privilege and a blessing; Saturday was no exception. I'll give you the cliffnotes version.
This weekend I was asked to "cover" the first of a series of meetings designed to help Florida Annual Conference (United Methodist Church) delegates prepare for both the 2012 General Conference and the 2012 Jurisdictional Conference.
For the uninitiated (and that includes me), the General Conference is the once-every-four-years gathering where decisions are made that literally shape the world-wide United Methodist Church. The 2012 Southeast Jurisdictional Conference is where bishops are elected and assigned.
The folk in the room were all significant "movers and shakers" in the church, and the business they were conducting was extremely important; yet I was welcomed as a friend and a colleague in ministry rather than an intruder into their space. I sat at one of the tables, I participated in some of the small-group discussion, I shared coffee and conversation with a variety of people during the breaks, I reconnected with some ministers I've got to know over the past couple of years, I initiated some valuable new relationships, I worshipped as part of the community, I prayed as a part of the community, I ate lunch with the group.
The only thing I didn't do was to express my thoughts or my opinion regarding anything that was "on the table" in terms of business. But I did feel as though I was actually a part of what was going on, rather than a spectator.
And that's what led to the meaningful spiritual moment I'm going to share. I can't talk about what exactly transpired, because the proceedings were confidential; but I can share that I felt deeply connected to what turned out to be a powerful movement of the Spirit in the selection of a nominee for the office of bishop.

fumata bianca
Fumata bianca - Bishop: "Fumata Bianca" is the Italian phrase that means "White Smoke". The smoke is released when the Cardinals (meeting in the Sistine Chapel) announce their decision for a new pontiff.
The 50 or so delegates present had been charged (by the Florida Annual Conference) with the responsibility of initiating the (sometimes several-month) discernment process for either selecting the Florida Conference candidate for bishop or coming to the conclusion that Florida has no nominee until - possibly - the next go-round in 2016. The process involved worship, prayer, scripture, personal reflection, small-group discussion and then a remarkable time, as an assembly, where it was obvious that people were listening to God's voice, listening to one-another, and sensitive to the moving of the Spirit.
I like to talk and write - a lot - about the "Life-charged" life. Well, Saturday afternoon with the gathering of Methodists was "Grace-Charged" to the hilt.

Prayer and "laying on of hands" for nominee to "The Episcopacy"
Instead of simply getting the discernment process under way, the day ended with the selection of a candidate. Rev. Debbie McCloud of Mandarin UMC in Jacksonville came forward, knelt, and was surrounded by 50-some delegates who placed their hands on her and prayed. It was truly a God moment.
When I spoke with her afterwards, what I told her was the truth. "Congratulations, Debbie. I'm not a Methodist, and I kept my mouth shut during the discussion. But I knew, the moment the first person mentioned your name, that you would be the Florida Conference nominee for bishop by the end of the afternoon."
Thankful for the privilege - DEREK

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