[Note: Instead of a typical "sermon," today we took time to reflect on and discuss Annual Conference.]
"Our Communities: Right Here! Right Now!" That was the theme of Annual Conference (Central PA Conference of the United Methodist Church) which took place during the last few days at Messiah College (Grantham, PA). It’s part of the larger theme of "Claiming God’s Frontiers."
Today, we (our Lay Member to Annual Conference and I) will share brief reflections, thoughts, and reactions to Annual Conference. This conversation will continue over the next several months at our Council meetings (devotion, in discussing our "Acts 29" plan, etc.) as well as our leadership meetings (Adventure Guides Gatherings).
While it’s hard to process the entire event and share it in a few words, I want to share several things impacted me personally.
First was the atmosphere which I like to describe as a "camp meeting" environment. The music and the worship was lively and the teaching/preaching was motivational and challenging.
Helping to make the environment celebratory was the fact that this year’s conference celebrated two major milestones — both 50 year anniversaries. One anniversary celebrates 50 years of full clergy rights for women and the other marked the 50 year anniversary of the first black congregation moving from the former "central jurisdiction" to the jurisdiction in which it was located, geographically. This marked the beginning of the end of the segregated church (in terms of affiliation with the jurisdictions, anyway). Amazingly enough, both of these milestones occurred right here in our Conference!
I am also grateful for Bishop Middleton’s (who happens to be the first woman bishop in this Conference) inspirational and courageous leadership in our Conference. I also appreciate the role of her spirituality in her leadership. It’s refreshing to have a leader who models authenticity as well.
I am always challenged to be more courageous as a leader when I come away from these events. Truth is, I would rather risk and fail than to not risk and maintain the status quo!
One of the keywords I took away from Annual Conference is "urgency." Bishop Middleton talked about the need for urgency. Personally, I feel a little tension between urgency and patience. I think the key is responding to the sense of urgency by consistently working toward the goal but being patient throughout the journey, knowing that it takes time to accomplish big visions.
At recent big events (Annual Conference, Visionary Leadership class/seminar, etc.), I have sensed the need/desire to go deeper with God, to prepare myself for the next phase of the journey. This was a big impact for me again at Annual Conference.
Well, those were a few things that impacted me. Here are a few quotes from Bishop Jane Allen Middleton that I thought were helpful …
“God, what are you doing in the world, and how I can – how can we – be part of it?”
“What is God’s yearning for us?”
“Jesus had the ability to discern what was important; he sensed the urgent.”
[Wrong Question] “How can we keep the church going?”
[Right Question] “How can we be God’s people?”
- To proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior
- To raise up leaders, both clergy and lay
- To be more than ‘Sunday/Tuesday Christians’ (i.e. Worship on Sunday, committee meeting on Tuesday)
“We are not here to serve the church but to serve Jesus Christ … we are not a club. We are servants of Jesus Christ.”
Setting a high bar for membership:
- Weekly attendance in worship
- Regular participation in a small group
- Hands on mission involvement
O God, thank you for what you are doing in this conference of the United Methodist Church. Thank you for our leaders. I pray that you will help us all to claim your frontiers right here in our communities! Help us to proclaim Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord in ways that connect with the people in this valley so that your kingdom may be built! Amen.