I'm writing from the press room at General Conference in Tampa. It's quiet here this morning, and I'm thinking hard about the conversations that have been happening here in Tampa and what they mean for us in the context of the local Church.
I made a mental note earlier this week that we were missing some people. We learned during the Young People's address that one of the two presenters, Joy Eva Algodon-Bohol, was unable to be physically present with us in Tampa because she had been denied her visa to enter the United States from the Phillipines, where she is president of the National United Methodist Youth Fellowship. She was still able to present, via technology and the large screens above the floor of the plenary session area, but that left her co-presenter, Krin Ali alone on the stage. Ali is 18 years old, and is from the Rocky Mountain Conference. I was blown away not just by his presence and content, but by his ability to have a conversation on a stage in front of thousands of people - with someone on a video screen.
At the press conference afterwards we asked Ali and Algodon-Bohol about their preparations and what it was like to present together from afar. Ali explained that the two of them have never met, and instead had prepared their joint presentation entirely through skype and email, a process that he described as "very time-consuming." Agodon-Bohol, who participated in the press conference via skype, but who was not miked, said through Ali that her visa process had started in January with a denial and then a reapplication for which she has not yet had her interview. Asked what he thought about the situation, Ali said, " We have a lot of issues to address as a global community. The person who should have presented with me couldn’t be here."
Later in the conversation, when Ali was asked about his thoughts on the future of the United Methodist Church, he spoke of others who are missing, saying " I feel like what we need to do is go beyond our church, go beyond our ways, reach people who are not in our religions. Religion has created many boundaries. Keep your beliefs, but don’t push it on others. Preach love, humility. Then we could get somewhere. We need to go beyond our own church, our own customs, embrace more people."
I think the United Methodist Church has more to learn from Krin and Joy than just what they said in their presentation to the General Conference. I think we can learn from them about what it means to find new ways to connect, in spite of significant obstacles. I think we can learn from them that the work of making room for others can be very time-consuming, and that the results can be profound. I think we can learn from to spend less time focusing on the times we have been excluded and more time and energy into welcoming others who have been excluded. And I think we can learn from them the value of seeking out, making a place, and showing hospitality to all God's children.