A Way Too Long Reflection on Conferences Past, June 16, 2015

This will be my first Annual Conference in 15 years without having to “work” every minute. As I packed my car today, I was remembering some of the interesting, unexpected things that happened behind the scenes, things that most people never knew anything about, or had any idea went into Annual Conference planning and execution.

  • The first year (2001) having my hotel assignment change about every 30 minutes on the way to Virginia Beach and as I unpacked the car.  Had no idea where I’d be staying until almost 9 PM that first night.
  • Annual Conference 2002 in Roanoke when the construction workers’ conversations came across the hearing assistance devices and the Civic Center staff shared that their system sometimes picked up the orders from McDonald’s across the street.
  • Being the only one brave enough to take the forgotten trash can up to the stage to place under the Bishop’s table when it was not there at the opening.  A clergy friend made me special business cards after that experience, listing my title as “Trash Can Bearer for the Bishop.”
  • The year in Roanoke when I stayed in the dark, empty heart of the Civic Center with Carol Vaughan until about 2 AM after finding out that the sound in the Power Point presentation for the Council on Ministries report to be offered the next morning didn’t transfer to the computer being used.
  • The seats that broke, the wires that tripped people, the stairs too steep to maneuver safely in all the various venues, the cars that got hit in the parking lots…and many a late night parking lot conversation.
  • Getting the worst looking basketball out of our attic, asking an intern to paint it bright green and white, just so the Bishop had a ball to fake a shot with in 2007 after the “Nothing But Nets” video – only to have it raise $150,000 in one of the most memorable hours of recent Annual Conference history.
  • The people (not to be named here in order to protect their identities…) that got stuck in elevators, on lifts, and in bathrooms. Those who experienced respiratory distress in meeting and hotel rooms due to environmental concerns. The ASL interpreter’s husband who was approached by a “lady of the night” at the pretty seedy motel where we had them staying. Very interesting conversations with facility staff over accessibility and general human need issues, including really bad food options in concession areas and the coldest…or saltiest…or poorly served banquet meals.
  • More doughnuts than I can count to keep sound guys, staff members, and interns happy.  Package after package of Jolly Rancher hard candy and Hersey Kisses to keep volunteer fingers typing.  Pencil sharpener after pencil sharpener to make sure #2 pencils could fill in scan sheets.

The list could go on and on, but I’ll stop there. Oh, the things you end up doing for Annual Conference when you’re on the staff.

This year, I get to take care of a display and greet people.  And, instead of making sure the money is collected for tickets like at the past 14 Annual Conferences, I am honored to speak at the Laity Luncheon.

Yet one thing hasn’t changed – in this year of electing delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conference – our lack of unity around what Jesus Christ tried to teach us seems to be more evident than ever.  As email requests have come asking for a statement of where I stand on wording in The Book of Discipline of The UMC and clergy roles and responsibilities, I’ve debated whether to share my stances openly here in this blog.  I don’t need to do that…mainly because the picture below from the 2012 General Conference was broadcast all around the United Methodist Connection.

But I think it is important to share a portion of my response to one of the requests for clarification as to my support or non-support for a petition before us in the Virginia Conference this week….

Early in the 2012 General Conference during debate over adding a phrase to the introduction of our Social Principles, it was clearly evident that our U.S. conservative and liberal biases were driving our deliberations.  My heart cried when our vote was divided 56% to 44% to make our statement read:  “We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s grace is available to all, that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”  My heart broke even further when one of our Virginia Conference delegates passed another during a Love Feast a few days later, stating that the bread could not shared because of their different stances on a difficult topic.

At those times, I had to feed my soul and the only way I knew to do that was to feast at Christ’s table.  I spent lunch joining with others in services of Holy Communion by the water’s edge.  Through our tears, we remembered whose we are and why we were present:  to share the message of the Gospel with a hurting world.  When the protest followed the vote on the wording of our Social Principle regarding human sexuality, I feasted with others at Christ’s table.  I received the bread and juice from one of the young clergy with whom I shared leadership in the legislative committee.  As he turned away and moved to the next person, another person came toward me with bread and cup in hand.  I looked at him and said I had just received, but would do so again, and I did it again, and again.  In teaching about spiritual disciplines, John Wesley instructed that we should partake of Holy Communion as often as possible and that’s what I did. It’s what I needed to do…to be reminded that God’s grace carries me, and in return I am called to love unconditionally.

The morning after the General Conference ended I sat by the water and read Three Simple Questions: Knowing the God of Love, Hope, and Purpose by Bishop Rueben Job.  The words were what I needed that morning to make some sense of what I had just experienced.  Here are the words that touched me most:

“We know we cannot do everything to change the world, but we can, by God’s grace, each do our part.  We can, each one of us, live what we are – a creature of the God who is Creator of all that is, a beloved child of God, a responsible member of God’s global family, and a follower of Jesus Christ as a part of God’s faithful family.  Every day that we live as Jesus lived, we change the world.”

That is why my name is in the pool again this year – one last time – Brad and Marthabecause to be a responsible part of this global United Methodist Church, I am called to embody that last sentence: “Every day we live as Jesus lived, we change the world.

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