Love Your Neighbor (34 Days and Counting)  

It’s been four years since the worldwide United Methodist Church gathered for General Conference.

Some of us have been preparing for this General Conference since the closing day in Fort Worth almost four years ago. With Tampa site visits, grassroots campaigns, fundraising, building relationships, expanding coalition, adopting inclusive legislation, creating websites, finding translators, resourcing delegates, and engaging denominational leadership, we have been preparing. [For more on legislation: MFSA Plumblines; Daily Christian Advocate (DCA)]

The structure of this General Conference is different because of annual meetings throughout this quadrennium between RMN, MFSA, and Affirmation leaders with the Bishop’s Unity Team. One outcome of these annual meetings is the creation of three nonvoting sessions for delegates. The first two sessions occur on Day One of General Conference. The second of these, as recommended by our team, will be on human sexuality and clearly addresses homosexuality. Some of us remember the three-day silence finally broken by the young adults in their address to the plenary in Fort Worth.

In 2008, we proclaimed our faith, our hope, and our challenge to our denomination from the plenary floor urging United Methodists to take action for justice ahead of policy change. Our United Methodist Christian teaching includes 36 bishops calling for ending discrimination in ordination, 13 annual conferences and 1200 clergy acting to end discrimination in marriage, and a trial court ending a history of “defrocking” those who act.

Now, preparation for those headed to Tampa includes travel plans, raising a tabernacle, and coordinating volunteers of an expanding coalition with growing work teams for Witness, Legislation, Central Conferences, and Media. Preparation for the multitudes staying at home includes planning to gather together locally, to use the devotion guide, to watch the daily Love Your Neighbor news reports, to experience the Sunday worship streamed and posted via the web, to send your love offerings, and to pray, pray for our coalition, for our church and for our world.


Love Your Neighbor Tabernacle 
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A tabernacle is a dwelling, a temporary shelter, and in our faith story the tabernacle is not only a tent sanctuary used by the Israelites during the Exodus, but also how the Gospel of John describes Jesus as among us.

It is fitting as we mark forty years of the “incompatibility” wilderness, that the Love Your Neighbor coalition’s center of activities will be a tabernacle located across the street from the Tampa Convention Center where the General Conference of The United Methodist Church is being held. In this 100’x 40′ air-conditioned dwelling, we will host delegates, organize volunteers, eat, pray, strategize, plan, and launch action.

Speakers include both young adults and retired bishops, central conference leaders as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender leaders. Leaders will bring their experience on ordination equality, marriage equality, immigration, nonviolent action, church restructuring, gender equality worldwide, and more. Translators will be working in French, Portuguese, Shona, Zulu, Tagalog, Cebuano, Bicol, and Ilocano to expand our welcome. A partial list of presenters includes: Albert Otshudi Long, Julie Todd, Lorenza Andrade Smith, Bishops Ott and Rader, Rifat Kassis, David Weekley, Garlinda Burton, and Brad Laurvick.

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Love Your Neighbor Worship

Love Your Neighbor welcomes Dr. James Cone as our preacher at our noon service on April 29 at the Straz Performing Arts Center. Dr. Cone will speak from his life experience and connect that experience to our hopes today. Dr. Cone was recently interviewed by Bill Moyers on his book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. The worship service will be “streamed” and posted online.

Our worship team is coordinated by Rev. Delyn Celec. Delyn was a part of the denominational worship team leading General Conference in 2008 and continues her work at Shenandoah University. This past year she was “extraordinarily” ordained by Church Within a Church.

Rev. Tanya Linn Bennett, professor of worship at Drew University, is designing our service. Tanya most recently designed the amazing services reconcilers experienced in Ohio at Sing a New Song.

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Daily Tasks and Opportunities for Volunteers

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Marla Marcum and Rowland Curry, Volunteer Coordinators

If you’ve never been to a General Conference, you might be struggling to imagine what coalition volunteers ACTUALLY do. What tasks and activities will volunteers take part in every day?

Some tasks take place each day, like blogging, monitoring discussions, and helping keep the Tabernacle space in good condition, and others will take place once or only after a specific event. Volunteers are needed who are willing to do little tasks and big ones, who want to work directly with delegates, and who wish to help behind-the-scenes, who want to come for 36 hours or the entire two weeks! While there will be too many events and opportunities for us to list them all, here are some of the many things that Love Your Neighbor coalition members will be doing while we are in Tampa:

  • Greet delegates during breaks
  • Pass out daily newsletters to delegates
  • Tell your story to a delegate
  • Share messages through signs, silent witnesses, praying in committee rooms, etc.
  • Update Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and other social media
  • Participate in daily street theater witness
  • Clean and set up the Tabernacle for hospitality
  • Dance, Sing, shout, and celebrate in rallies
  • Pray with delegates or other volunteers
  • Monitor the progress of legislation
  • Listen to the discussions by the General Conference
  • Encourage one another
  • Write blog posts, press releases and newsletter articles
  • Post and share media (pictures, videos, audio recordings) online
  • Worship and sing together
  • Stay up late planning daily strategies
  • Help the coalition office with copies, sending letters, etc.

Ready to volunteer? If you haven’t already, sign up at http://gc12.org/action/volunteer-at-general-conference/. If you don’t have a place to stay, view these alternatives.

 

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Street Theater! 
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Wait, what exactly IS street theater?

Imagine yourself walking down the sidewalk next to the Tampa Convention Center. All of a sudden, you notice a smelly, dirty person lying on the ground and moaning. Even more shocking, you watch a passerby look down at the one who is suffering, glance at a huge wristwatch, and walk away! What will you do? Just as you decide to go investigate the scene, a flaming rainbow cape catches your attention: a bold, queer hero stops to see if the one who is suffering is alright, and they begin speaking in oddly loud voices. At that moment, as they talk of making time to look out for others in need, you suddenly realize, this was no simple encounter but an opportunity to ask yourself, “Am I ready and willing to help any neighbor I see in need? Who is my neighbor?”

Street theater includes a number of methods of performing a short skit, catalyzing meaningful discussion, or offering the opportunity for a crowd in a public setting to consider a discussion question together. Love Your Neighbor volunteers in Tampa will have the opportunity to present sketches and dramatic interpretations of the Good Samaritan Story. Some of these dramatic presentations will reinterpret the question, “Who is my neighbor?” by reminding us of those who currently are ignored, abused, oppressed, and hurt by church policies, culture, and legal systems. Others will share the ways in which the UMC already lives out God’s vision for our church as the Good Samaritan who stops and takes time for persons who have been “set upon and left in a ditch.” Volunteers are needed to participate in drawing attention, act in this street theater, inspiring, and leading discussions which reflect upon the sketches, helping to prepare and encourage one another. If this is something that interests you, please contact Marla Marcum at marla.marcum@gmail.com.

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Action: Send Your Prayers to General Conference 
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The Love Your Neighbor Tabernacle needs your prayers…literally. As we (continue to) transform our church and world into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love we’ll physically transform the fence around the Tabernacle into a prayer wall. Just as the Good Samaritan bound the wounds of the person who fell among robbers, our prayers and witness offer healing and hope to our world over run with physical and spiritual violence.

Reconciling churches, communities, campus ministries and individuals are invited to send fabric prayer strips for the Love Your Neighbor prayer wall. If you or a member of your community journies to General Conference, send your fabric prayers with them for the wall. If you can’t make it to the tabernacle, mail your prayer strips to the RMN office or Howard Johnson Hotel (mailing information below) and a Love Your Neighbor volunteer will attach your prayers to the wall during General Conference.

How to get involved:

  • Create a fabric prayer strip
    • Select a fabric or use scraps you have from other projects
    • Written prayers show up best on bright colored fabric (patterned or plain)
    • Cut a strip of fabric no larger than 2″ wide x 30″ long
    • Write your prayer on one side of the fabric
      • Permanent markers work best but bleed through fabric so remember to protect your writing surface
  • Celebrate in Worship
    • Invite members of the community to write prayers on fabric strips during a worship service. Use a song or the Litany of Loving to frame your action
  • Send your prayers
    • Commission volunteers to carry your fabric prayer strips to the tabernacle when they volunteer at General Conference
    • Mail your fabric prayer strips to the RMN office or Love Your Neighbor hotel (Howard Johnson) according to arrival date
      • Arrive March 23, 2012 – April 18, 2012 – Reconciling Ministries Network c/o Meg Carey, 3801 North Keeler Ave, Fl 3, Chicago, IL 60641
      • Arrive April 19, 2012-May 2, 2012 – Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel, c/o Meg Carey (LYN office), 111 West Fortune St, Tampa, Florida 33602

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Action: Young People 
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If you are a young person, student or even an older youth, and you would like to have a direct impact on the General Conference, MOSAIC wants to invite you to Tampa!

At this General Conference, delegates will make budgeting and restructuring decisions which have the potential to either expand or abolish youth and young adult ministries across our church. Youth and young adults are needed to remind delegates that youth and young adult ministries are vital to making disciples for the transformation of the world! To emphasize the current leadership of young people in our movement and church, we will have a powerful first-day young adult presence. During the entire conference, young adults will remain visible leaders in coalition meetings and teams, dancing and singing witnesses, holding a rally to encourage coalition volunteers, as well as offering hospitality and daily meetings for young delegates and volunteers!

Are you interested in dancing, singing, meeting new people, organizing rallies, and changing the world? If so, we need you! Please email Audrey today!

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Action: Marriage Equality and an Altar for All 
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All laity and clergy at General Conference, whether delegates or not, are invited to attend a celebration of the nearly 1,200 clergy across 13 annual conferences who have organized for marriage equality. The “Altar for All” celebration will take place Friday, May 4, at 12 noon, in the Love Your Neighbor Tabernacle. The celebration honors clergy who are committed to celebrating partnerships, unions, and legal marriages for LGBT couples, and offers an invitation for more clergy to join them.

Participants in the “Altar for All” celebration will honor faithful witness and invite everyone to renew their vows of faithful and loving covenants:

  • Baptismal vows to follow Jesus and resist oppression
  • Membership vows to witness our faith
  • Ordination vows to be in ministry with all
  • Couples vows to love one another.

If you are clergy and want to participate in this public event either by supporting or enacting the Altar for All, please RSVP to Matt Mustard at mmustard@foundryumc.org.
Also, if you are clergy and want to organize an equal marriage movement in your annual conference, please contact Matt as well.

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Action: Support RMN

More than ever before, you can help RMN put a generation’s worth of hope and strength into action in Tampa! Will you consider making a gift to RMN to help end the 40 years of LGBT discrimination? Your gift will support scholarships to young adults to attend General Conference, translators for Central Conference delegates, printing and mailing of resources for General Conference delegates, and much more. Please make an online donation today. However you choose to give, thank you for your support!

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