The United Methodist Church's General Conference 2012 is currently underway in Tampa. The convention center that is our “sanctuary” for these two weeks is bordered on one side by the busy downtown of Tampa and on another side by the calm waters of the Tampa Bay.
The opening worship service was themed around water, reminding us that the waters of baptism is where it begins for all of us. The service began with a blessing from some of the indigenous people of this part of Florida. Dressed in their traditional garments they invited God’s presence and blessing into the large convention hall. They taught us that the word Tampa comes from one of their ancient words meaning “fire sticks” or “lightning.” (Thus the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning)
Last night the mayor of Tampa addressed us telling us about the heritage that Pirates hold in Tampa history. (Thus the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers) In this morning’s Episcopal Address Bishop Pete Weaver taught us that when the Spaniards arrived here 300 years ago they named the Tampa waters “the Bay of the Holy Spirit”. What does this history have to do with our time here? What does this setting hold for the United Methodist Church?
Calm waters next to a bustling, concrete metropolitan downtown. The cool breeze off of the Bay reminds us of “fire stick” storms further out at sea. Do pirates loom on the Bay of the Holy Spirit?
I am learning that Tampa is full of contrasts. On the sidewalk in front of the convention center peaceful demonstrations for different theological views stand side by side. Inside of the convention center hundreds of countries are represented with all different colors and languages standing side by side in worship.
The United Methodist Church faces critical decisions this week. It seems we must remember that as the church we border the waters of the Holy Spirit on one side and the busy city in need of God on the other. There will be lightning and pirates at times but as the church we weather those storms because we follow the one who has the power to still the storms.
When I checked into my room I learned that I had a “city view” room as opposed to a “river view” room. This means that my balcony has a view of concrete and taxis instead of waves and sunsets. At first I was disappointed, but now it seems fitting as I consider out task at the conference. The church needs both views. At times we rest by the peaceful waters of the Spirit, but it is not to be our permanent seat. We also need the city view which holds for us difficult work but beautiful sights that cannot be seen if we are always gazing into the water.
I think Tampa is the right place for General Conference 2012.