The special session of the General Conference, Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis, will begin with an entire day of praise and worship.
“This will be a wonderful act, signifying and recognizing our dependence on God to lead us forward as a United Methodist Church,” said a statement from the Praying Our Way Forward Team of the Council of Bishops.
Great Plains Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. said he appreciates and applauds the intentional time of prayer.
“I can see where people may believe that that curtails time for business when there’s so much to do and so many items on the agenda,” Bishop Saenz said. “Although it might appear to be a misappropriation of our time in light of all that needs to be done, I believe that prayer is going to set the spiritual tone for the holy work we’re about to do.”
While the remaining three days of the special session are expected to be contentious, Bishop Saenz said the day of prayer can serve as a show of unity in the denomination.
“It changes our viewpoint and our vantage point,” he said of the prayer time. “It helps us to sympathize and empathize with the other and to learn how to have compassion for people that Jesus had compassion for.”
The session will begin with a one-hour opening plenary prayer service at 9 a.m., followed by prayer guided by the four regions of the denomination’s world from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“When we put ourselves in a position of prayer … it helps us transcend to a higher place, so we get a larger perspective than ourselves,” Bishop Saenz said. “We see ourselves in the whole.”
Ever since a meeting of the Council of Bishops in May, Bishop Saenz has set aside four minutes each afternoon, from 2:23 to 2:26 p.m. — to signify the Feb. 23-26 dates of the special session — to stop and pray the 23rd Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer.
He has continued to do so daily since then, and in every stop of his 18-city town hall tour to discuss the special session issues, the bishop has encouraged churches, clergy and laity to join him.
“It was a simple way to pray and a simple reminder to me,” Bishop Saenz said. “I have found that I needed to keep myself centered in Christ. I needed to remind myself that this is Christ’s church, and my role in it is to shepherd the people of God forward.”
Bishop Saenz said he’s gained new appreciation for certain passages in both the 23rd Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer.
“There’s something about reminding myself every day that ‘the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,’” he said. “The most important prayer we can ever pray is, ‘Not my will, but your will be done.’
“It’s been a prayerful journey not only for the delegates, but for the whole church,” the bishop added.