As I boarded the plane on my way to General Conference 2012, I had no idea what this experience would be like. I was overwhelmed by all of the acronyms, DCA’s, ADCA’s, legislative committees, petitions, Robert’s Rules, the Discipline, not to mention the emails and mail. Being a college student at the University of South Alabama (with finals & final projects due while I am gone), having a job, and planning a wedding, all at the same time as attending General Conference, caused me to feel slightly apprehensive.
While on the plane headed to Tampa, the lady in the seat beside me leaned over and asked, “ Why are you going to Tampa?” Pausing for a moment I thought of how I would have to spend a long time explaining and wondered about the best way to describe the work I was going to do. I simply replied with, “I am going to General Conference for The United Methodist Church.” With no hesitation she said, "Me too!" Greatly relieved, I took a deep breath.
As we began to talk, I figured out that the first question she asked and the first question everyone would ask was, “What committee are you on?” Just as the question, “When is the wedding?” is so often heard after getting engaged, “What committee are you on?” is the most natural and popular question after announcing that you are going to GC. Although that question is easy, somehow I seemed to mess it up. My immediate response was, "I’m on Independent Studies." Oh wow, was I wrong! It is "Independent Commissions," just to be clear. It was then I realized that the language of General Conference would be very important.
On Tuesday, as GC started, we had our opening worship service. Seeing our delegation for the first time was such an awesome thing! As we began that worship service, we repeated together a litany that has shaped my whole General Conference experience: “We have come to do justice. We have come to love kindness. We have come to walk humbly with our God.” Not exactly what I thought about when I thought about General Conference. With all the rules and details and lack of sleep and even arguing, coming to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God sometimes gets lost with the thousands of petitions.
Wednesday was my first legislative committee meeting. In, yes, Independent Commissions. First we elected officers to help preside over our committee, beginning with our chair and vice chair. The next position was secretary. Before I could even sit up straight, some person from the front of the room nominated me for this job. I had no idea what I was doing — this is my first General Conference and until that moment I didn’t even know we elected secretaries for our committees. As I walked to the front of the room and started talking about who I was, I had full confidence that the older gentleman from Kentucky who had done this before would certainly get this position and I would have no worries. Well, with a majority vote, I was elected. WOW, Really?
Okay God, that was my first reaction. With the myriad of things going on in my life now and knowing I had finals due during the midst of this conference, I felt I was going to be overwhelmed. During the training, I could not have felt more overwhelmed!
I decided that night to pray about my situation; I figured that would be a good thing to do! I simply prayed the famous words from a song a well-respected and knowledgeable pastor told me, “Lord, whatever you're doing in this season, don’t do it without me!” I woke up ready for my legislative committee secretary duties! It was actually very easy for me to get the hang of it. I was surprised. It became not a job but something that I began to see as important. Because of the efficiency and determination of my committee, we finished early — like two days early. I was able to be active in my committee and God gave me plenty of time to do my school work.
As we now are in the second week and it is much more difficult for people to agree on motions and amendments and petitions, I am constantly reminded: “We have come to do justice. We have come to love kindness. We have come to walk humbly with our God.”
And Lord, whatever you're doing in the season of our life, our church, and our world, don’t do it without me!!!!
*Elizabeth Cumbest is a Mississippi Conference lay delegate to General Conference