Yesterday at General Conference I had a lengthy conversation with Rev. Dr. Tom Albin, the Dean of The Upper Room, who told me this story about their work in preparing for this Conference. The Upper Room created a Prayer Team to hold our process and all the delegates in prayer. A few months ago someone suggested creating silk “prayer mantles” for all those on the prayer team – about 20 folks.
Everyone thought this was a good idea; in fact, such a good idea that they next decided to make a mantle for each if the 988 delegates to General Conference. Now that seemed a bit more daunting a task, so the team prayed about it. One of the team members reminded the others of these words from Acts 5:38 and 39, concerning one response to the early Christian missionaries: “In the present case, keep away from these men, and let them alone. If this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. In that case you may even be found fighting against God.”
So, Dr. Albin consulted with Rev Alan Morrison, the Secretary of the General Conference, to get permission to distribute the prayer mantles. Alan was intrigued, told Tom he would pray about it, and then came back to say, “It’s a good idea, but what about the 300 reserve delegates?”
So now the number of hand painted silk scarves needed would jump from 988 to 1298!
Tom took a deep breath. “If God is in it,” he reminded himself, this could be done. But Alan wasn’t finished yet. Next he suggested prayer mantles for the 150 bishops, for the members of the worship team, for the musicians, the marshals and pages… By the time their conversation ended Tom had agreed to work with his 3-person team to create 2,012 hand painted prayer mantles!
Which is precisely what they did. Traveling to each of the five US Jurisdictions -using donated frequent flyer miles and staying in private homes – they gathered United Methodists to paint and to pray. (Some of our congregation joined the project one Saturday out at the Collins Retreat Center) So that this General Conference legislative process, and all the participants might be bathed in prayer and centered in God.
All because someone remembered the Bible’s encouragement to try new things, even daunting undertakings. If God is in our plans there will be no stopping us. If not, just let it go. No shame, no blame. Just move onto the next plan, knowing that not everything we try in good faith will succeed, but everything we fail to try will definitely fail.
Good words, these. Encouraging words, for courageous actions. Words for all of us. And for all of us together.