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United at the table


By Gil Hanke


As I was sitting in General Conference, I was reminded of a classic response to a children’s sermon by the Rev. John Ed Mathison.


During his message, he picked up a bank, shaped like a church. One of the children, concerned with the manner in which he was handling the bank, blurted out, “Pastor, be careful, you have the church in your hands.”


By now you have heard that General Conference in Portland was better than the one in Tampa. But there was a particular moment when the conference could have unraveled right in front of us, as some delegates prepared to walk off the floor. Thankfully, the leadership gathered, and the meeting moved ahead, and everyone stayed in their places.


We knew what could have happened. It was like catching the church in John Ed’s children’s message before it crashed to the floor.


This General Conference gave us time and space to celebrate the fulfillment of God-sized dreams:


  • Reports from the young people’s gathering;
  • Reports on continued church growth in Africa;
  • A sermon by a Hannah Faust, a 14-year-old girl who raised funds for several water wells in Burkina Faso;
  • The achievements of “Imagine No Malaria” to cut the number of deaths from malaria in half and the launch of a new initiative called “Abundant Health.”
  • The consecration of 29 international missionaries;
  • The setting of the stage for a provisional conference in Southeast Asia due to rapidly growing faith communities in Vietnam and Laos.

We were are able to achieve these results in Jesus’ name because of the size and diversity of the UMC.

Yes, we disagree on issues related to human sexuality.

Yes, we have some accountability and trust issues.

And, yes because our settings are different, we are not a uniform denomination; but we are united.

During worship on the first day, God reminded me we are united at God’s table.

As we stood to receive Holy Communion, Two people stood by to serve our section. One was a person I admired, and one was a person I believe has harmed this denomination. I thought about going to another station; but then I remembered, this is not my table, this is not either one of the server’s table, this is God’s table.

No one comes to God’s table because he or she can claim perfection.

Like the John Ed sermon, we felt as if we held the church in our hands for a moment, but the church is not ours, it belongs to Christ who gave his life for us.

May we be ever grateful and filled with the knowledge that our church where worship and the denomination that connects all our churches together belong only to Christ.

I am staying at His table.

Gil Hanke, general secretary

General Commission on United Methodist Men


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