Pastor Shares Experiences As General Conference Delegate

Jill Jackson SearsJackson-Sears has found that the “other” is a gift; Deadline to apply is Friday, April 19

My husband and I are both first-born children with Type-A personalities, which goes to show that God has a wonderful sense of humor. Our first year of marriage was filled with heated debates about how to do life together. Both of us wanted to determine the terms of the relationship, and we often found ourselves at an impasse. 

With time, we learned to say two very important words that inevitably changed the conversation. “Cherish me.” These two simple words reminded us of the vow that we made to one another and God in our marriage covenant – a covenant that, in the words of Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, “… must be said before others, so that they can remind you of the promise that you made when you did not completely realize the promise that you were making.”

In my preparation for the 2016 General Conference and the 2019 Called Conference, I have reflected upon what it means for us to cherish one another in our covenantal relationship as Christians, particularly as United Methodist Christians in the North Texas Conference. Within our conference’s geographical boundaries, we represent a broad spectrum of believers. We are young, old and somewhere in the middle. We are rural, suburban and metropolitan. We are progressives, traditionalists and centrists.  

While these differences are certainly a challenge, I have found that the “other” is a gift. Even when I disagree with – and have even been hurt by – the “other,” the experience has caused me to examine and explore my ministry, my theology and even my call more deeply than I might have done without the “other.” Every relationship and experience have given me clarity, conviction and a commitment to ministry that I would not had without the “other.” Being in relationship with Christians, who think differently, is a blessing … and a challenge.  I cherish the “other,” and at the same time, it’s hard.

Sadly, our denominational tension regarding human sexuality has shut down the conversation and damaged our covenantal relationship. Traditionalists claim that progressives ignore the Bible, and progressives claim that traditionalists cause harm. Most people are not talking, and when we do, we hurt each other intentionally and unintentionally with the words that we say and do not say. The pain goes both ways.

I have learned a few valuable lessons during my time as a General Conference delegate with the North Texas Conference. I believe that everyone is trying to be faithful, even if we do not interpret scripture in the same way. I can respect people who are doing ministry with integrity, even when I disagree theologically. I have learned that you cannot be my enemy when you are my brother or sister in Christ. I can still cherish you.

My prayer is that we can change the culture of the North Texas Conference by learning to cherish each other. Let me be clear: this shift will not come easily. This cultural change will take a willingness from every one of us to do life together differently. We must listen without the intention of changing the other person’s mind. We must look for the value in the position of the “other,” even if we do not agree with it. We must remind each other of the promise that we made to God and to each other when we did not fully realize the promise that we were making, because the relationship with God and with each other is worth it. 

Rev. Jill Jackson-Sears is senior pastor at Lake Highlands UMC.


Published: Tuesday, April 9, 2019