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Annual Conference Reflections, Part 1

I'm about 1/2 way through our annual conference session here in Liverpool, NY. Yesterday was our clergy session, and today was opening day of regular business.
Yesterday, my DS Carl Johnson (see also my post from earlier today) gave the message at clergy session, titled, "The Word Made Flesh," based on Ezekiel 37 and John 1. One thing he shared was something I didn't know: when communion tables in churches are dressed with two candles, one on either side of the cross, they have a specific meaning: the one on the right means "Jesus Christ, Son of God," and the one on the left means, "Jesus Christ, Son of Man" - humanity and divinity. Johnson wanted to focus on the humanity of Christ, the body, incarnation, fleshiness of Christ. One way he talked about Jesus' embodiedness was in terms of the sacrament of Holy Communion. He shared a story of a woman who had always been the communion steward at her church, and so never got to really experience communion herself. When she was in a place to "be in" communion, she experienced God's grace, saying, "I became an expression of Jesus Christ, full of God's grace and truth for the benefit of the world."

Yesterday we also approved for commissioning as a probationary elder a young woman who is nine days younger than I am - I will now be only the second youngest clergy person in our conference!

This morning, at full session, Bishop Violet Fisher gave her episcopal address. She always teases herself because she gives more of an episcopal sermon than an address, but she is an excellent preacher, so no one minds! Her message was based on 1 Corinthians 12. One of her main points: "How can we call anyone or anything that God has made unclean?" She quoted William Sloane Coffin: "God's love does not seek value, God's love creates value."

The most moving message came from my colleague, Rev. Betsye Mowry, who is the pastor at the other church in Oneida, 1st UMC. She gave the message at the Memorial Service, and she was just so honest and open and loving in her words that I couldn't help but shed some tears myself, though I did not personally know any of the clergy members who had died this past year. Her thesis, based on Romans 12: "We draw our meaning from being part of the body [of Christ] and not the other way around." She spoke about the fact that joys in one part of the body bring joy to all, and sins in the body affect all, like a cold makes our whole selves feel miserable. I wish I could get it all down here for you.

As for the business of conference, things so far are going smoothly - a lot of ministries to celebrate, despite a lot of work to be done in our churches. I'll post more tomorrow or Sunday.

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