I was an atheist, possibly an agnostic when I saw Witness back in 1985. My husband and I were newcomers in Gilroy, and the Amish community depicted in the movie attracted me powerfully. I wanted to be part of a barn-raising, surrounded by neighbors I knew and who knew me. I wanted to work side by side in community to build something of value.
Years later my family was able to spend a day in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and I still wanted to be Amish. The only two problems as I saw them were that my husband worked for Apple computer, so we couldn’t possibly do without electricity and technology, and the women had to fasten their dresses with straight pins. Had it been safety pins, I would’ve been tempted to find a way to make the whole thing work.
I also find monastic life appealing, an established rhythm for each day that provides balance I can’t duplicate at home, another built-in community, and plenty of time for silence and introspection. As an introvert, I can go days without feeling the need to leave the house or to interact with anyone outside my immediate family; as I writer I feel the value of my personality type. And yet, I need connection with the wider world.
Soon I will have connection big time, with about two thousand people at the Sacramento Convention Center as all the clergy and lay representatives from each United Methodist Church in the California-Nevada Annual Conference gather for our yearly meeting. I was overwhelmed the first time I attended Annual Conference in 1999. We were in prayer, worship and work—discussing and voting on policies for church business and taking stands on social and justice issues—from early morning until late evening. It was exhausting, yet energizing because for the first time since they’d moved on to serve other churches, or I had moved from a community, I re-connected with every pastor I’d ever had, including the one in Woodland when I’d served as a youth janitor in high school.
This reunion reminded me that our connection exists even when we are not present physically. I return each year grateful for these people gathered at the conference joined in faith, and it’s expression through the United Methodist Church. We don’t agree on many things, and yet we are committed to meeting together, talking through our differences, celebrating and supporting the work we share in common to bring Good News in a world inundated with bad news. I have been accepted as an equal in ministry and overwhelmed at the outpouring of love as the Holy Spirit moves among us in the long hours. Yes I get squirrelly, unable to stay in my molded plastic chair for another second, yes it’s too hot outside and too cold in the convention center, yes I usually stay in really dumpy hotels, but I’m not in it alone.
None of us are in this life alone; our actions do impact others. Often, though, I’m so wrapped up in my small life, my small circle, that I forget this. It takes the reminder of Annual Conference for my long-distance vision to kick in. Physically I move out of the mountains with their limited view and into the valley where the vistas are wide. Spiritually I’m reminded of our church partnership with the West Angola United Methodist Church and the work of the fact-finding team in response to killings in the Philippines, and I remember, again that these are brothers and sisters I have never met, part of my community—the human family—the entire planet.
How I wish I could hold the big picture of our connectedness in view for more than the few days of Conference. Maybe if I were Amish.