Nashville singer/songwriter Kacey Musgraves captures the love/not-so-much-love feeling that many experience in living with the many different members of family: the “I can talk about my family, but you can’t” stance we take; the “she may be my crazy aunt, but I love her” defense we offer; the “good Lord, is HE coming to the wedding” reaction versus the “where IS HE” response when he doesn’t show. Many people understand the loyalty versus disappointment that members of the same family often feel about one another. The refrain of Musgraves’ song, “Family is Family” proclaims:
Family is family, in church or in prison
You get what you get, and you don't get to pick 'em
They might smoke like chimneys, but give you their kidneys
Yeah, friends come in handy, but family is family.
I spent this past week at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina with my Southeastern Jurisdictional United Methodist family, and it truly felt like a family reunion. Three hundred and seventy-six delegates came from Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. We gathered to elect five new bishops who will oversee our Annual Conferences. Many of these delegates have attended the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference for many years and know one another across conference lines. Greeting one another felt like a reunion among aunts, uncles and cousins. Matriarchs and patriarchs from various conferences were addressed with respect and admiration. The “are they still as ornery as they used to be?” delegates were greeted cautiously. Old friendships picked up quickly where they had left off and new delegates were introduced to others as one might introduce a new in-law.
We took our seats in Stewart Auditorium to begin the business of the SEJ Conference, but we first did what this particular family does first. We entered into a time of worship. We sang of our faith and celebrated our place and acceptance in the family of God. We shared the holy meal of communion with our United Methodist family members. And then we began our work together.
It was obvious that we come from different theological commitments, that we all do not agree on how we think this family should live together, and that many of us think that the “other” person is the crazy aunt or uncle. But at the risk of sounding too sentimental, I truly felt like we operated like a family committed to finding the best way to live with one another in all of our differences and through our disagreements. We did good work. We elected five bishops who represent the diversity of our family. And we did that all in one day!
As I drove out of the mountains of western North Carolina and into the piedmont of Georgia, my heart was filled with gratitude for my Methodist family in the Southeastern Jurisdiction. The disappointment I felt after General Conference was replaced with a profound sense of hope. I believe that if we were left to our own devices, we could find a way through the current impasse the global United Methodist Church is experiencing. I believe that we could find a way to remain a family and allow the crazy aunt, the curmudgeon uncle, the renegade cousin and the confused niece or nephew to sit at the same table and partake of the mighty grace of the one who is the head of our family, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Let us continue to pray for our family and for all who want a place at the banquet table - even this eccentric Aunt Alice.