Hope for the Church

Though she’s not an official part of the Kenaston family, below is the most recent blog by Maria Niechwiadowicz, Connor’s girlfriend and fellow missionary.

Taking the Call

The end of May brought a final family reunion for the Global Mission Fellow class of 2014-2016. Upon the end of General Conference in downtown Portland, we bused out to the serene haven that is A.Collins Retreat Center. Isolated in the midst of Oregon forest and under the warm hospitality of retreat staff, we were able to reflect, laugh, and be in community.

I have often described this family with positive words, unable to fully convey the unique love that has formed among us, but after attending a week of General Conference and then two weeks of our End-Term event, I now know what I am most proud of.

General Conference brought much dissent, emotions, and negative talk within the United Methodist Church. Tensions were high, decisions were made (and not made) to disappoint some and discourage others. Some left the Conference disheartened or even angry at the Church…

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A Model for the Global Church

Check out the most recent blogs by Connor about the Global Church:


and here:



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What is the “Global Church”?

Recent post by Connor!

"Stretch Out Your Hand"

While numbers of United Methodists have gradually decreased over the last few decades, the denomination outside the US (what the UMC calls “Central Conferences”) has grown rapidly. These statistics lead many United Methodists to call us a “global church.” In many senses, this is true. For one, General Conference now has 40% of its delegates come from Central Conferences. That means that there are at least six translators doing simultaneous interpreting in every session (and breakout session) of General Conference! Many of the church’s ministries (like the Global Mission Fellows program!) are global in nature, embracing a ministry with* and “from everywhere, to everywhere” model for ministry.

However, while the UMC may be more global than most denominations, upon closer inspection it becomes clear that there’s plenty of room to grow. There are indeed Methodists all over the world, but only a small number of them are actually United Methodists…

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(The picture is of the backside of the screen – sometimes Joe’s view as a marshal)


I have cried and I have prayed. I have hugged friends in heart-broken agony. I have sighed with relief and then worried about what is coming. Ah…General Conference. You are a stress test.

I have felt the Holy Spirit moving throughout and then felt that we had turned our back on that prompting. And then had to be convinced that the spirit could indeed move again.

And, Friday came and I said goodbye to the Commission on the General Conference. What an amazing experience it has been to have chaired this incredible group. It’s just hitting me that I may never see some of these people again – ever here in this world. It’s easiest just to avoid the goodbyes, but sometimes you can’t. Goodbye, dear friends; Goodbye, people that have served with me. If I didn’t hug you today, here is my hug.

But for now, here are some of the ways that General Conference tested my stress level.

Friday, we tried to work through 78 pieces of legislation. Just for the record, in 2012 we left 71 pieces which were never acted upon. We got below that number this year. But we tried parliamentary maneuvering to save time which took more time than just acting would have. These things are very frustrating. And then we did a very bad thing by requiring that all legislation be considered in committee and acted upon by the GC in the future. Wow. Just Wow. I wanted to try to amend that one to insert the language (not considered by committee in the last two GCs, but supported overwhelmingly at the end of 2012 by adding it to a report and not the Discipline. Oops.) that all petitions must have the support of some body within the church. There should be some vetting prior to arriving in the lap of the petitions secretary. But no vetting was acceptable – and yet we are going to consider every petition! Again – Wow. Just. Wow. They have no idea what we have done to our volunteers and future General Conferences. My apologies to all (even though I voted NO!!!)

Accusations that a bishop is telegraphing how to vote with his fingers. Seriously – this one was bizarre. (However, years ago in my very first Annual Conference as secretary, I was accused – anonymously on an evaluation sheet – of telegraphing the votes before they were announced. I think I must have been smiling at Joe occasionally – but it had nothing to do with votes and more to do with being in the secretary’s chair for the first time and really appreciating his support.) Similarly the bishop may have been fiddling with his fingers but I seriously doubt he had time to worry about signaling votes. As I said, it was really bizarre.

But while on the subject of bishops presiding: This one isn’t a direct quote, but the way I heard what some of the bishops were saying: “Yeah – I was wrong and possibly totally messed up that vote, but we can’t fix it now.” This does not bring me comfort.

Not that the bishops haven’t had plenty to put up. We started early with challenges to the bishop used in political ways (uh…remember that Rule 44 which was part of the original rules report that passed by majority had to get a super majority because someone pulled it out of the original rules and then challenged the bishop when she said it should be treated as the other rules). Later challenges were ugly and then people fussed when they were ignored. What part of “Christian Conferencing” is this? I need to remind myself that we actually chose numerous times NOT to Christian conference – first by rejecting Rule 44 and then by not considering that we do this as a part of General Conference. (Thanks to leadership on the Conferences Legislative Committee – this was never brought to the floor. I wasn’t there to hear the discussion and I can’t decide if I’m glad about not being there or not. I might have had some influence or I may have just been miserable.) If not for the leadership of the bishops – through prayer, gentle pleading and occasionally just good presiding – I’m not sure we could have done much resembling Christian Conferencing. Best “hot tip” from Bishop Sally Dick trying to respond to delegates frustrated that we were moving too slow: “You could just not come to the microphone.”

We got very tired of Points of Order that weren’t about any rule and Points of Information that were speeches in favor or against. And it had to be explained that “Point of Information” actually means you’re asking a question – not answering one that you think someone should have asked.


So, our plenary action was not a highlight of Conference, but there were good moments. The youth reading their statement of unity warmed my soul. Worship in many languages and incredible music were uplifting. Coming to the Maxline stop from the hotel each morning (at 6 am!) and seeing folks heading with me to meetings allowed me to meet people I might not have otherwise seen. Dinners with friends. I had the tremendous blessing of rarely being anywhere where I didn’t know someone. That is a contrast to my first General Conference where I knew virtually no one outside our conference.

The West Virginia delegation were committed and active, and “Group Me” messages made me smile. The prayers sent out by the conference each day were a wonderful reminder of our connectedness – as was emailing the DCA to Bishop Grove and his daily words of support.

We had two times of sharing – one in our legislative committee and one at our table – that were surprisingly good. The table one wasn’t very well directed but those of us who know how to do that kind of thing stepped up and people were more open to sharing why they felt the way they did than I expected.

And I loved all the people who knew me as “Diane’s mom” and “Connor’s mom.” The connections are amazing. And the young people (and not so young people) are awesome.

So, what’s next? I need to reflect when my brain is not so fogged from lack of sleep. My initial reaction to Wednesday’s vote to accept the Bishop’s plan was one of cautious hope. We did not destroy the church THIS time. I had never allowed myself to think that splitting might be the best thing until the debate and defeat of a motion by Adam Hamilton to follow the bishops’ plan. But the agony of that moment was intense and I began to think that holding a divided church together might not be the best thing.

Will the talk be effective? I don’t know. I didn’t hear a lot of give from either of the extremes at this conference. But here lies my hope and my fear. What the bishops are trying to do is the same that the Commission envisioned: let the middle ground have a voice. There are a lot of us that love the church and see it as much more than the things that divide us (not to in any way imply that those on the extremes don’t love the church.) But, my fear is that we are losing the middle because of the extremes. We are being forced to choose sides by the way we vote. Nuance (and conversation, apparently) are to be feared because they might drive us from our truly heart-felt position.

So, while I hope that the conversations the bishops will lead will allow us to reach a place where we don’t use the Bible and the Discipline as a weapon; where we can rise above the culture and challenge those who try to motivate people by finding a common enemy; where we truly look for the image of God in each person in our path, our record of doing this isn’t great. And we will still have to come back to this place (General Conference – not necessarily Portland) and take votes which will create winners and losers. I’m pretty sure that’s not the way Christ intended for the Kingdom to look. I do hope the process will prove me wrong. There are things that we can not do, but God is Able (blatant plug for the song commissioned for GC and distributed to all the delegates).

I’m headed home – back where churches will gather on Sunday and sermons will be preached. There will be baptisms. There will be new faith commitments. There will be new disciples created for the transformation of the world (Fortunately, the challenge to our mission statement was successfully overcome!). There will be mission events and there will be chances to look outside our walls. And there will be some squabbles over the color of the new carpet and who didn’t clean up after themselves. Church life goes on.

I’m exhausted (6 hours of sleep most nights ending with 3 last night.) I could probably sleep for days – but won’t. Life is waiting. I’m grateful for a God who doesn’t need sleep. A God who doesn’t need points of order. A God who doesn’t need us to be perfect – though we United Methodists know it doesn’t hurt to try. God is able. And I will rest on that.

57° Cloudy
200 Brookwood Ln, Beckley, WV, United States

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The lighting for the mirror in the bathroom of our hotel (which has been “home” for the last 12 days) is not good. Well, let me take that back. It depends on what you want to see whether or not it is good. It’s dim – so even when you’re really tired, you look ok. It’s kind of uplifting – until you look in a mirror where the light is better. Then you see the blemishes that others are seeing when you are in the light.

I had been thinking about this idea of inaccurate reflections as I read some things that folks are experiencing at General Conference. How do we want to look – and are we content to look in a bad mirror to see ourselves in that way? Are we willing to pretend that we are making disciples for Jesus Christ when we aren’t acting like people who love each other? Can we speak cruelly to other people and still see ourselves as looking good? Can we pass legislation that hurts people and still see ourselves smiling? Can we waste time arguing about how we shouldn’t be wasting time, and still view ourselves as flawless?

There is a mirror being held up to us here at the General Conference. Which image of the church will we choose? Sometimes it’s important to look at the real image we are projecting and not the one which we think looks good.

We hear a lot about unity and there are a lot of celebratory moments. Each of them by itself is great. I love this church and I love what we do, and I desperately want to celebrate. But the celebrations have a hollow ring when we are so divided. The image reflected is not accurate.

Overnight there were rumors of a breakup – a separation – a divorce – many different terms suggested. These proposals have been coming for a couple of years and would have been a bigger reality if the groups that wanted to leave could figure out how to take the money with them (Sadly). Now those who had been waiting for something to happen to make them stay at this GC, realized that the mood of this Conference was not going their way. So, they too joined the chorus of departure.

We woke up (at the usual 5:00 am) and had an email from Diane (where it was 7 am) shouting “Somebody tell me what is going on?” At that point she knew more than we did. She’d been reading social media. We’d been sleeping. So we read the reports. We read the denials. And then we proceeded as normal. We might be tired, but we can smile in the mirror and we don’t look so bad. Work has to happen – even if everything is feeling like chaos. And it’s a comfort to do work as normal.

Mid-morning Bishop Ough, new president of the Council of Bishops, presented a statement by the COB stating that the Council was recommending unity, and that the role of the bishop was to “preside” as we the delegates made decisions. By afternoon there were people begging the COB to lead and offer us some way forward. And apparently that is what they are doing tonight. I do not envy the task. And I’m not sure they’re up to it. But I am praying for them. We need help. We are stuck.

So, we will see what comes. I think today folks were begging for a clear mirror with good light. We need to see what we look like. We need to recognize flaws. We must see ourselves clearly. And then we must choose which image we want to make reality.

Grant us wisdom. Grant us courage – For the living of these days…

74° Mostly Cloudy
777 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Portland, OR, United States


Can good come from chaos?

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A Conversation with US2’s about Poverty and Race

On Saturday morning, Chelsea Spyres (one of my Global Mission Fellow prayer partners and one of my closest friends) co-delivered the Young People’s Address to General Conference. Chelsea is one of the most genuine and compassionate individuals I know, and I was proud that she was able to share her story with the rest of the General Conference. I was lucky enough to share a (significantly smaller!) stage with her later that afternoon as we had a conversation about our experience as Global Mission Fellow, US-2’s. You can check it out that conversation here:

Exciting programs like Generation Transformation are one of the reasons why I believe in connectionalism and think it’s important that it remains at the core of United Methodism. We can do so much more together than we can apart. If you’d like to donate to the GMF program you can do so via my Advance Number 3021973.


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A Chance to Vote

File_000 (8)Serving as a reserve delegate comes with both joys and challenges.

Joys: There’s less pressure! If I need to take an hour for my health (read: sanity), I can do that and not feel guilty about missing a vote or an opportunity to share my voice. This provides more time to share with friends, old and new, which has been my favorite part of General Conference thus far.

Challenges: I cannot vote or participate in discussions! It can be incredibly frustrating to be unable to share a point or perspective that hasn’t yet been voiced. Also, reserves never know when they’re going to get the chance to fill in for a delegate so you always have to be ready. Being a reserve is kind of like being an understudy in a musical–you may never get the chance to perform, but you still have to learn all the lines, music, and dances just in case!

Yesterday, I did finally get a chance to participate! One of the West Virginia lay persons (and a good friend of mine), decided she needed a break during yesterday’s morning session which meant that I was able to sit on the floor and even take two (unimportant) votes! Yes, I didn’t actually impact anything (honestly, the best part was really that delegates can plug in their computers/phones while reserves do not have plugs), but it still felt good to finally feel like I could participate.

And yet, while it can sometimes be frustrating not to be able to participate fully, I’m thankful. For one, I’m thankful for Erin’s generosity to forfeit her seat for a spell. Even more so however, I have appreciated the opportunity to be here for worship, prayer, and the opportunity to simply be in this space. Global Ministries talks about the need for those who rarely speak to “step forward” and those often speak to “step back.” I know this may not be a surprise, but I always have to remind myself “step back, step back, step back…” Not being allowed to talk has been good for me, and I’ve appreciated being forced to simply listen (even if it drives me crazy!) because it helps me to truly hear someone else’s perspective and opinion.

I hope that all involved (myself included) continue to give thanks for the blessings even in the midst of what can be a difficult process!

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Staying Healthy

I wrote some of this on Friday and some on Saturday. Both days we have spent most of our time in legislative committees. You can see my spread as we work. I am assigned to General Administration in the sub-committee dealing with Plan UMC Revised. This is a re-visiting of Plan UMC – which was all the excitement of GC2012. The 2016 version of GC doesn’t seem to have much energy for it. Our sub-committee voted to refer it. Some of the makers were in the committee and were obviously disappointed. Investing time and energy in to something you are passionate about can leave you feeling empty. I think I can safely say that. It’s stressful.

Here is Friday‘s prayer from the West Virginia Annual Conference:

“Dear Lord, we lift up Judi today as she fulfills her responsibilities for General Conference. May Christ be in the heart of each to whom she speaks and in the mouth of each who speaks to her. Grant her the rest that will provide the energy she needs; grant her wisdom as she makes decisions and peace as she listens to your voice. Today may the work of the General Conference move us closer to your reign on this earth. Amen.”

In April, the delegation wrote prayers that we wanted to ask the annual conference to pray for us while we were gone. Each day is a different delegate. Today was mine. It was really nice to read it this morning and know that people were being reminded to pray for me.

Every General Conference, I have truly believed that prayers have sustained me. Generally, in the past, just because I managed to stay healthy and have enough energy to complete the work that was in front of me.

I was talking to a first-time delegate in the hallway. A younger man, he told me he had no idea how hard this week would be. He said, “I’m in good shape and healthy and I’m worn out.” Yesterday the leader of one of the legislative committees collapsed on the stage. The diagnosis was de-hydration, lack of food and stress. (Just a note: he is doing fine now and is back at conference). Every year, we hospitalize delegates for stress-related illnesses. As I was preparing to send this, word came that the vice-chair of the same committee had been taken to hospital.

It’s grueling out here…..

The Commission attempted to address some of these concerns by setting the early adjournment time. We break at 6:30 and folks can get dinner and go to bed. Except when they can’t. My mornings start with a 6:30 am meeting. I catch the train at 6:00. I have given up telling myself that’s 9:00 back home. Because then I would have to admit that I went to bed at 2 am the night before.

When I have tried to explain how hard it is to be at General Conference, I realize that until you do it, you just can’t understand. Yes, it is wonderful. Yes, it’s an honor and privilege. Yes, it’s exciting. But it’s also just plain hard work. Emotionally and physically. And I’m tired.

Thanks for your prayers, West Virginia Conference. We are doing our best.

We have heard wonderful sermons, an incredible young people’s address, some impassioned speeches, and now we’re in the process of tediously going through legislation with a 9:30 pm deadline.

Tomorrow is a Sabbath. Never is it more appreciated than at General Conference.

87° Partly Cloudy
200–298 NE Holladay St, Portland, OR, United States





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The View of General Conference from a Marshal’s Perspective

The following post was written by Joe Kenaston:20160513_162056

I like to think of my role as the official greeter of the General Conference!  Imagine a Walmart greeter.  And since I enjoy talking to people, it is a perfect fit!  Most folks I encounter are pleasant, courteous, and appreciative of our help. Marshals help people find where they are going, problem solve, and contact help if it is serious (i.e. – yesterday someone passed out in a meeting and the paramedics had to be called).  We work 6 to 8 hour shifts sometimes starting as early as 6 or 7am (good thing I am from the East Coast) and other times the afternoon or later shift.  Because we are from all over the world we reflect the make-up of the General Conference and it certainly adds a richness to our conversations and experiences.

In addition to being a welcoming presence, I also have to check credentials to ensure the integrity of the process.  Voting delegates have access to inside the bar (where the official conversation and voting taking place) and the others must listen from the visitors’ gallery.  Perhaps a Sam’s Club greeter is more apt than the one who just helps you find a cart.  If the electronic system is not being used, we also help the pages with collecting and counting the votes in sub-committees.

During opening worship, I was at the entrance of Bishops’ family section and enjoyed greeting everyone.  It was delightful catching up with Jane and Clif Ives and Eleanor and Ernest Lyght.  They were the WV bishops from 1992-2004 (Clif) and 2004-2011 (Ernest).  I had one visitor wander into the family section and I had to redirect him to a visitor section.  He laughed and declined the invitation to sit in the spouses’ area as long as he was willing to marry a bishop!

One of the difficult parts of being a marshal is having to be quiet when the discussions, debates, and votes are going on.  I want to help clear up confusion caused by misunderstanding, language, and cultural barriers which are all intensified by a parliamentary process that is common in the English speaking world, but less so elsewhere. (But alas, the marshal’s role does extend that far).  It is also disconcerting to see how the rules of debate can be used to stifle conversation and manipulate the process to a particular political end (I am not referring to chairpersons, but there are many who have that skill).  It was also sad to see the conference choose to be bound by the rules of debate rather than embrace the concept of Christian conversation which was the motivation of Rule 44. (See Judi’s blog for a reflection).

On a joy-filled note, I had a wonderful reunion with the 1976 Northeastern Jurisdictional youth delegates from WV.  Tom Bickerton, bishop of W. PA, Chuck Smith, social worker in Portland, and I have been friends since before we could drive a car.  It has been several decades since the three of us were last together.  It was great to be in the same place!  A joyful picture of the blessed connection!

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For those playing along at home

One of my frustrations being on the east coast/midwest is that I miss lots of the livestream.  (That’s not counting the hours I spend telling myself that I’m going to work instead of watching the livestream… and then I end up checking the twitter feed every five minutes, which also isn’t that helpful for my productivity–or my blood pressure).  While I’m doing local church work, the general church goes on without me. It’s a lesson in humility and patience and trust – and in “keeping the main thing the main thing.”

The good news is that within twenty-four hours, each plenary, worship, and keynote address is posted on the UMC’s Multimedia page. So, if you’re playing along at home, I’ll link to a few videos to get you started. (And then I promise I’ll mostly stay off this blog while Mom, Dad, and Connor do the first-hand reporting! Remember that lesson in humble listening that I’m working on?)

If you are on this blog because you are obsessed with the UMC, I highly recommend watching Bishop Gregory Palmer’s episcopal address.

If you are on this blog because you are obsessed with Judi Kenaston, then you can see her eleven minutes of fame here:

(The embedded video should start at 1:31:07 of the May 10 Afternoon Session)
(I had a local church evening meeting during her afternoon Portland speech, so I had to look this up two days later… and while I was at it, I thought I could share with you!) 

Mom also spoke on Rule 44. You can see her closing statement and the final vote here:

(This embedded video should start at 2:35:25 of the May 12 Morning Session. Speeches for/against and various motions/amendments are found throughout the previous few days’ archival footage

I realize that it’s a bit narrow-sighted to only link to my own mother, but I hope that this gives you a good feel for General Conference plenaries and an easy entry into exploring more of what may interest you at General Conference.

As you livestream and/or watch the archived footage, you may also appreciate this Guide to General Conference.

Now go out and do some local work!

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