Surrender is often what comes at the end of a long struggle, at the close of a long battle. It is a sign of giving up; a sign that you cannot take it anymore. In wrestling with a sibling, it is the equivalent of shouting “Uncle.” In professional wrestling it is like “tapping out.”
Yet on Saturday, as the delegates gathered for the General Conference of The United Methodist Church, their time together started with surrender. This was a surrender to God and a surrender to the Holy Spirit. It was a sign that we are giving up of ourselves with the knowledge that our God is not giving up on us.
It was a time of preaching and singing and scripture and would be familiar to many United United Methodists from around the world and the words of that old familiar tune were sung by all as the opening worship headed towards a close: “I surrender all, I surrender all / All to thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.”
The closing prayer of this opening setting was an adapted version of John Wesley’s Prayer of Submission:
To you, O God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, my Creator,
Redeemer, and Sanctifier, I give up myself entirely. May I no
longer serve myself, but you, all the days of my life;
I give you my understanding. May it be my only care to
Know you, your perfections, your works, and your will…;
I give you my will. May I have no will of my own.
Whatsoever you will, may I will, and that only…;
I give you my affection;
I give you my body;
I give you all my worldly goods;
I give you my credit and reputation;
I give you myself and my all;
O my God and my all, when hereafter I shall be tempted to break this solemn engagement, when I shall be pressed to conform to the world and to the company of the customs that surround me, may my answer be: “I am not my own. I am not for myself, not for the world, but for my God. I will give unto God the things that are God’s. God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
This Special Session started with surrender.
After this opening worship time, the General Conference moved to spend time in prayer over various regions of the church; their people, ministries, and concerns. This section our our day provided a window into the church around the world and each presentation of song and Word and storytelling from the regions provided an opportunity to know who and how to pray for our church in places different than our own. Each session was then followed by a lengthy time of prayer; in silence, at prayer stations, or with friends and colleagues on the conference floor. During the morning we heard from and prayed for our African brothers and sisters and those from Europe and Eurasia.
When the delegates came together after lunch, the General Conference turned toward a recognition of those in the room; delegates, alternates and visitors. There was also a special recognition of our LGBTQ+ friends, four hours after the opening of this session. As LGBTQ+ delegates and allies gathered in an ever-growing prayer circle in the middle fo the floor, Bishop Wallace-Padgett of North Alabama provided an invitation to pray for LGBTQ siblings at General Conference and around the world. At this time, those gathered were encouraged to hear, “We see you.” From the Bishops came that prayer that, “When one suffers, we all suffer.”
After this recognition, the session moved to more prayer for the regions of the world; this time focusing on the Southeast Asia the Philippines and eventually moving to the United States.
The close of this day of prayer was a full worship service of Holy Communion for everyone in the arena.
In worship, after a prayer of confession, the “passing of the peace” was extended. It was a “Peace Invitation” where those on the floor and in the room were encouraged to reach out to those they did not know, those with whom they disagreed, and to seek to be at peace. The invitation read: “If I have done anything intended or unintended to harm you, please forgive me. May the peace of Christ be with you.” Then, as the worship team sang “Lean on Me,” participants milled around, greeting others with the peace of Christ.
Communion was offered to all in attendance, with Bishops serving. Crosses were blessed and handed out to all the delegates. Bishop Hoshibata enthusiastically closed the gathering by leading the familiar (to many) blessing from Numbers 6:
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. Amen.
After a day of worship and prayer, surrendering to God, the members of the General Conference started looking ahead and working toward the business of the next few days.