Photo illustration by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications
During the United Methodist 2016 General Conference, participants will receive a Protestant prayer-bead strand.
By Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service
Pray, breathe, repeat.
When the 864 delegates arrive for the 2016 United Methodist General Conference, each one of them comes blanketed in prayer.
From every corner of the world, people are speaking their names and praying for The United Methodist Church as the denomination’s top policy-making body prepares to meet at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland on May 10-20.
In addition to stirring music, inspiring sermons and those once-every-four-years opportunities to spend time with brothers and sisters living in distant places, delegates will spend long hours in debates that could dramatically change the laws of the church.
Often, the proceedings stop for a word of prayer when things get too heated.
Before all that begins, the Rev. Tom Albin, dean of The Upper Room Chapel, invites all United Methodists to prepare and blanket the entire proceeding with intentional prayer.
All are welcome to join the prayer community created for General Conference atwww.60daysofprayer.org.
“The prayer ministry for the 2016 General Conference is more intentional, more inclusive, more integrated and more expansive (than previous quadrennial gatherings) which, hopefully, will make it more visible,” Albin said.
Technology has changed in the last four years, Albin noted, making it possible to offer the prayer book, “60 Days of Prayer for General Conference,” in multiple formats and languages.
Visitors to the website may sign up for daily meditations that will begin on March 31 and end nine days after the conference closes on May 20. Meditations are available online or by signing up for a free PDF, email feed or text message.
The daily meditations also will be available on the General Conference app and on tablets being used by central conference (conferences outside the U.S.) delegates in English, French, Portuguese and Swahili.
As in past conferences, a prayer room and trained volunteer spiritual directors will be available.
“With every decision made, there will be some across the connection who will be hurt and angry; others will be grateful and rejoicing; and yet others will be confused and uncertain,” Albin said. “By holding one another in prayer, the pain and the joy and the frustration will all be shared with God. In prayer, we can do what we believe — rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”
At the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Florida, everyone at the opening worship service received handmade prayer mantles.
In 2016, everyone will receive a Protestant prayer-bead strand including a prayer medallion created specifically for this General Conference, Albin said.
The Council of Bishops also planned 131 days of 24-hour prayer vigils in each of the 131 regional conferences in The United Methodist Church.
The Oregon-Idaho Conference, location of the 2016 General Conference, started the vigil on Dec. 31, 2015.
At 11:45 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, United Methodist Bishop Grant Hagiya took the last shift.
Hagiya said he received a vision from God while he was praying.
“What if, God said, there was a General Conference where argumentation and advocacy to one’s personal biases were set aside and we all pulled together to work on some major life-transforming initiatives?” he said.
“What if was the vision,” he said during the Jan. 19-21 pre-General Conference news briefing held in Portland.
“I pray you will ask that same question and God will bless you with your own vision of what can be,” Hagiya said.
“Many have been anticipating the opportunity to be a part of the 2016 Prayer Ministry,” Albin said.
“There is a sense of gratitude and expectation ... that God is going to hear and answer our prayers in a manner that exceeds everything we could possibly ask or anticipate.”