Pack a suitcase, trying to plan for every possible temperature, both inside the convention center and outside. Comfortable shoes for walking and standing and walking some more. Boxes of goodies mailed ahead of time to the hotel so the added weight doesn't put me over the limit at the airport. Get up very early, catch the airport shuttle, and then eight hours later, land in Portland, OR.
Even before GA starts, it's started. Delegates and commissioners have been studying materials, denominational staff have been assigning roles in the exhibit hall and fretting over all the details, souvenirs have been ordered, and plans have been made to see friends over breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, and late night drinks.
And then you arrive, check into your home for eight nights, and head to the convention center for your badge and to get oriented. And even before you get that far, you start seeing people you know from all across the denomination. You stop, exchange hugs, chat briefly, and then start off again, only getting a few more feet before another friend, colleague, classmate is greeting you with a big grin and open arms.
This is my experience of General Assembly. Portland marks the third time I've been honored and privileged to attend, and each time, I recognize more people, know more about the resources that are available, and feel more like I've come to the biggest homecoming possible. It's a great feeling, and it confirms for me once again that being part of a connectional church is manna on the journey in my life.
I lost track quickly of how many people I hugged and how many faces I recognized. In the course of just a few hours on what I'm calling Day 0, before the first offical meeting tomorrow, I've started planning for new programs, new possibilities, and new resources for the work I've been called into. Already I'm strategizing into 2017 and beyond, thinking about the timing of bringing a new stewardship training program into our area, and when to introduce a new emphasis on creating intercultural churches along with leadership education to help make that happen. Already, I know that my time here will be rich and meaningful and will empower and equip congregations, pastors, and ministries in Boston and Northern New England.
Because in addition to being a giant homecoming, this gathering is also a great big think tank, a place to dream about the church God is creating in our midst and an opportunity to work alongside other people who are just as passionate as me to bring us a step closer each day.
By the end of this week, I will be exhausted. This is a lot of people time for an introvert, and the opportunities to retreat and be quiet are hard to carve out, especially in the face of all the glittering possibilities. But it will be an exhaustion that is tinged with new purpose and new hope.
I know that even now, sitting in my hotel room after being up for almost 20 hours. God knows it too; there's a rainbow stretched across the sky proclaiming again promises of steadfast love and faithfulness for us, for our children, and for our children's children.