Thursday, June 4, 2009

Holy Conferencing

The Annual Conference of the SC United Methodist Church ended Wednesday. With all that occurred, it was, in a word, uninteresting. That of course is just my take on it. And I don’t name it such as a complaint, just an observation. A lot of people worked hard to make things run smoothly and that’s exactly what I told the Bishop when she asked Wednesday at lunch how I thought Conference was going. “Smoothly,” I responded.

Presiding over our proceedings, she did her part well, even getting everything done ahead of schedule. She assigned the preaching and Bible study times to our new church pastors and that was good. Hearing their enthusiasm and commitment to win new converts was inspiring, but it also was somewhat like when the foreign missionary comes to speak at your church. You’re thankful for the work they are doing, but you realize they are in a different world than yours.

We recognized a lot of churches and people for excellence in ministry over the past year. We again took Tuesday afternoon and did acts of service in the Florence community. We voted on the Constitutional Amendments (voting down the ones related to changes for the worldwide nature of the church by a consistent 85%). We commissioned and ordained some great new ministers, and we passed the necessary budget and reports, in general with little discussion. So, we did some good things over the four days.

Maybe that’s all Conference should be, that and the time for fellowship, (catching up with folks you care about but rarely see). But a part of me is nostalgic. I “grew up” in the Conference when the business, the budget, and the social stance of the Conference were often hammered out on the Conference floor. Breaks were a time to discuss strategy and the amendments we’d make motions. There were “characters” who interspersed humor or called us to observe parliamentary procedure with “points of order.” There were the wise leaders of the Conference, often not agreeing with one another or the presiding bishop, but guiding us with experience and vision.

Now it is obvious the “work” is done elsewhere, in committees and cabinet meetings, and Conference is there to receive the reports and give official approval. And maybe that is the way it should be. A new generation of leaders affirms the real work of the Church is done not when we gather as delegates, but when we scatter into fields of service. So I guess Conference should then be a time to celebrate, renew relationships, and worship. But sometimes I miss sitting on the edge of my chair waiting to gauge the next speech in a contested debate, and hoping and praying the Church body makes a wise decision with its vote.

1 comment:

Jim Elder said...

You're right. No excitement really. I even knew of a couple of pastors who left during sessions to take naps, two right at the civic center. I don't think there is anything that can be done differently without creating chaos and disruption. So much is covered, with awards, recognitions, etc., that much must be done before we even get there. Otherwise, we would need a whole week, which would eliminate many of the lay delegates from coming.

And concerning lay delegates, someone sitting next to me at Monday made the comment of how many LD were gray haired. "No wonder the UMC isn't growing. Where are the middle and young adults? This just gives you a pretty good idea of who is leading the church!" I wondered how true his observation is.