Thursday, June 07, 2007

Annual Conference Reflections

I'm back from Annual Conference. I still have more Festival of Homiletics reflections to write, but I'll pause from those to talk about Annual Conference. Showing my United Methodist-nerdiness, I have to confess that I love Annual Conference. I have ever since I first attended as an equalization member when I was a junior in high school. I love seeing my colleagues in ministry, lay and clergy, and I love our crazy United Methodist ways, at least most of the time. North Central New York is somewhat unique, in my experience, compared to other annual conferences. I think we are relatively a-political. Of course, all church bodies are political to an extent, but when I look at other conferences and the legislation and resolutions they deal with at Annual Conference sessions, I'm struck by how rare such resolutions are in NCNY. Occasionally we have something controversial, but not usually. Occasionally we have a candidate for the episcopacy, like Bishop Devhadar, but not usually. And when it comes to General Conference, we do things differently than many too. We don't campaign. Laity can fill out an application and give a brief speech at the Laity Session over lunch, but otherwise cannot campaign. And clergy - we just get a giant list of the approximately 400 eligible clergy and start voting. Most of the time, these are things I like about NCNY and make Annual Conference fun.


OK - Last Wednesday was clergy session. It was fun to be on the "other side" of ordination and listen to and vote on candidates for ordination and commissioning. Thom White Wolf Fassett, outgoing dean of the Cabinet, preached on Mark 8:27-29, "We are the Faith Keepers." He said that we participate in the hallowing of each other's lives. He said that "the church is so pre-occupied with its own struggle that it does not accommodate the vision of Christ." The next generations are/will watch us closely - what do they see? Will our own personal stories hold up to those looking for truth. He said that the early church understood itself as a spiritual way and not a religion. Who do you say that Christ is?

Kathy Turnbole, chair of BOOM, shared in her report about a church where they couldn't get people to stop parking in the pastor's parking spot. So they posted a sign that read, "If you park here, you preach here." She challenged us to "Preach where you are parked."

At the opening of the regular session on Friday, Bishop Neil Irons preached on our theme from Micah 6:6-8 (and Luke 18:9-14,) "Walking Humbly: A Point of View." He said that a biblical text is like mechanical drawing where you look at something from different sides and put them together to get an idea of the whole picture. He said, "Extreme wealth beside extreme poverty always makes the poverty worse." He talked about the worship patterns of extremely wealthy communities. They [the wealthy] wanted everyone, including God, to be in their debt. God is obligated to do something for them. God on a string. He talked about the man praying in thanks that he wasn't the tax collector - "He is so glad for who he is, and he’s sure the rest of the world is glad for who he is," and added, "How we are with others is how we are with God."

On the UMC not being a 'creedal' church he said, "We always leave room for God to do something more than we have anticipated." "We have turned this [magnificent, wonderful, etc.] God into a great enabler of our misdeeds." He concluded, "It takes a lot of courage to walk humbly because sometimes it means walking dangerously."

On Saturday, Bishop Violet Fisher gave her episcopal address, focusing on Jeremiah 29:4 and the theme of General Conference 2008, "A Future with Hope."

She asked us, "Have we come to a place where we are promoting our own dreams instead of listening for God’s leading? We will be brought back from captivity when we begin listening to God. Letting go of our own agendas. Do we wait for God to give us hope and a future? Do we trust that God has a plan for this Annual Conference? . . . We shape hope when we say _____, when we decide _______, when we open the door to the stranger, when lives are transformed . . . , when we walk the walk and talk the talk."

"Vision alone is not enough," she said. "There must be a plan. We’ve got to risk. To hope for means more than just saying it. We’ve got to work to make it happen. We’ve got to be willing to let loose, let go, of some of our stuff . . . What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus answer was 'Let it go.' But People are afraid to let go. They are afraid of the future."

Challenges for NCNY:

Developing spiritual transformational leadership – expectation in congregations that all this leadership comes from the pastor. We pay the pastor, etc. Some laity recognize their gifts, but lack direction to use them, and others have direction, but lack recognition of their gifts.

The only credential for ministry is your baptism.

A ministry of calling, empowering people within your congregation. Be willing to help put manure around trees when they need it.

Average age of clergy in UMC is 57.

Ineffective clergy. Clergy not willing to be retooled, revived, resuscitated. Advised us to read Joseph Arnold article, “Have They Fruit?”

Small membership church. Making disciples? Or a social club?

Urban Ministry – Average age in this region is 37. Where are they?

Strengthen Our Global Witness – Ministry in Africa, HIV/AIDs, Nothing But Nets

We must be "Manufacturers of hope."

Finances. Pastors responsible for financial health of congregations.

Sunday was the Memorial Service, which I always find to be a moving highlight of our time together. My District Superintendent, Rev. Carl Johnson, preached. (On a side note, I can now (and am delighted) to share with you that Rev. Johnson, who retires on July 1st, is following me here at St. Paul's. He will become interim pastor here on October 1st. I'm thrilled for St. Paul's - Carl is an excellent pastor.) He shared with us from Matthew 10:38-42, Matthew 25:31-40 - "God Entrusted You!" - Carl talked about how we don't take the time to really share what is going on in our lives most times. But when we are given the opportunity, we erupt into conversation. Do we ask each other, wonder about each other, "Where did God first encounter you?"

Carl talked about remembering, and that we don't just remember mentally but viscerally. When we share in communion, we remember viscerally. It is a re-memberance.

"Where did God find you?" he asked. If we truly want to honor those we memorialize, we do that in our own flesh and blood.

He shared with us this beautiful reading - not sure of the source - online it is just listed as "Come Walk Among the Stars":

**Update: Source is Winston O. Abbott, grandfather of one of the commenters on this post! Thanks for letting me know!**

My Gift of life is a thing of transient beauty -- a thing of mystery --
and above all else a miracle -- it is a thing of beauty because
of the soul-- a mystery because it stretches between the invisible
yesterday and the unknown tomorrow -- a miracle because it is a
composite of countless other lives --
And as my life has been gently touched by other lives -- it follows
that I have touched theirs too -- one cannot always know the time
of greatest need -- perhaps this is as it should be -- perhaps it is
only for me to light one darkened corner of the path -- to place a
hand upon your shoulder as a symbol of my kinship and
my love -- perhaps I came this way -- as did you -- to fill some
special need -- but this is not always given to us to know --
Sometimes a single word will lift the spirit --
sometimes words are so inadequate ---
and sometimes it is destined that one must only listen --
sometimes a smile will bridge the empty darkness --
sometimes just the nearness is the answer --
From many lives I have gathered courage and strength --
I have learned humility and gentleness -- I am grateful --
And so you must understand that your life is not
of your own -- it has become a part of mine -- and so it
follows that my life does not belong to me
-- it is yours --

Other things at conference:

  • I am the conference youth coordinator, and every year we lead a worship service. (Ok - actually, the youth lead a worship service.) The service was awesome this year. Kurt Karandy, a youth who was elected first alternate to General Conference, preached a sermon that had the people shouting and clapping. He even quoted John Wesley and the Discipline, which is a sure sign he's doomed for the ordained ministry. CCYM chair, a young woman named Erica, shared a message and gave a gift to the bishop, all with hair done for the prom, which she had to leave for before worship was even quite over. I'm always amazed at the commitment level of the youth - that they will go back and forth multiple times during the weekend, just to balance other commitments with a commitment to being at Annual Conference.
  • What we do fight about at Annual Conference? Money. The thing I noticed is that when we debated (and we rarely debate in much detail about anything - we're generally on the same page about things), it was always about money. It is amazing that the thing Jesus talks most about can be the thing we have the most different ideas about. Or maybe that makes perfect sense. I don't know. It is just frustrating to let money - the lack of it, how we spend it, who gets what, etc. - be the thing that takes up so much of our time.
  • Elected to General Conference were clergy - Darryl Barrow (Director of Spiritual Development for the conference), me (Elizabeth Quick), Bruce Webster (my pastor and mentor growing up), Bill Gottshalk-Fielding (fellow vegetarian) and laity - Greg Forrester (NEJVIM coordinator), Stephanie Deckard (youth!), Chuck Forbes (conference lay leader), and Ron Bretsch (a delegate with me in 2000.)
  • Jurisdictional clergy - Marti Swords-Horrell, Deborah O'Connor-Slater, Tom Wolfe, Sung Ho Lee, and alternates Thom White Wolf Fassett and Inell Claypool. Laity - Kurt Karandy (youth!!), Shirley Verity, Ed Enstine, Sharon Fulmer, and alternates Jennifer Stewart and Mike Huber.
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