The witness this morning was absolutely beautiful. I know I have said this many times throughout the past week, and I again must state, that it might be the highlight of General Conference 2008.
The Garrett crew (and Karl representing Candler) began early this morning with an aura of hope. Our focus was so much on the hope that we have spoken of all week that I think we really able to capture the Spirit of what God wants this General Conference to be. We split up and welcomed folks as they came in, and the responses were astounding.
"I'm so sorry!" one man said to me as he backed up and returned to talk to me. "I have gotten so used to no one in here talking to anyone else that I didn't expect a stranger to greet me so kindly." This was a sad, truthful statement, but it also brought a new light to the room. I felt like our presence made a difference, whether it was a simple "good morning" or the line of hugs from another student at another door. There was great appreciation from persons on all sides for the excuse to just smile and say a simple "good morning." It made the air a little lighter as we proceeded into morning worship to hear a great sermon from Bishop Jung.
The witness came at 10:30am, when RMN/MFSA were invited onto the floor for a peaceful witness. The live feed online was turned off during the witness. Reason given for this was that it was officially a "break," and breaks are not played live for seemingly obvious reasons. This upset a number of people, clearly. The good news is that it was recorded anyway, and can be found online now here.
The witness was amazing. Garrett's own Audrey Krumbach gave an amazing, inspired address that was full of hope and spoke of seeking true reconciliation as we face our brokenness on both sides. Truly, the church has been an angry, hurtful place over the past few days. I could go on about what was so significant and amazing about this address, but I believe it best for you to watch it for yourself. Once I get ahold of the transcript, I may post it here.
Following her address and song, we were also addressed (unexpectedly, as it was NOT planned!) as a retired bishop stood and called out the church as sinful for condemning homosexuals in the same way we did African Americans and women in our histories. My words can do little for the powerful witness we had here today. I urge you to watch it yourself.
One last thing. As I noted last night, we Garrett students were concerned with our desire to be a strong witness during the witness. We were focused on the need for reconciliation and finding a way to peacefully find a way to agree to disagree. At the very least, we want to recognize that we are a broken, hurting church with a great variety of opinions and strong convictions. After a great deal of discussion, what we decided on was this: we sat together as a "purple blob" in a long row near the front center of the arena. Staggered every other chair, we stood holding hands in unity as every person either stood or sat. For some of us (me included!) we pre-dictated what we whether we would stand or sit (I couldn't have handled having to sit!). As a sign of unity, many who had convictions one way or the other were convicted in doing the opposite of where they stood as a sign of a desired unity for those with whom we most disagree.
I wasn't entirely sure our "witness" would be as well received as we had hoped since we were unable to have an announcement made from the floor about our intention of presence (we tried, but weren't called upon). I am told, however, that our presence was in fact a clear statement, and folks from both sides expressed their appreciation for the statement it made. That in and of itself is enough of a statement of unity for me to be proud to have been a part of it.
This witness, and the conversations with our students, faculty, and Bishop-in-residence immediately following have made me proud to be a part of the "bold leadership" of Garrett.