Thursday, June 21, 2012

Annual Conference

This week I've been attending the annual meeting of the WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA CONFERENCE of the United Methodist Church. Our conference includes all United Methodist churches in the western half of the state of North Carolina (pretty much Greensboro and all points west.) The gathering includes all United Methodist ministers in this area, and one lay person for each minister (so if a church has two pastors, it sends two lay persons). For us pastors, attending annual conference is a requirement.

We meet at LAKE JUNALUSKA, about 30 minutes west of Asheville. I love being at Lake Junaluska. It's holy ground for me. I grew up going there every summer with my dad; my kids have grown up going there every summer with me. I was ordained there, and my son and his wife were married there. We have a house there, where we plan to retire. Besides all that, it's just a beautiful place.

But I hate the fact that the facilities and accommodations at Lake J are simply not adequate for a conference of almost 3000 delegates. It's impossible for everyone to fit into the auditorium where the meetings are held. Many of the delegates end up staying in hotels that are miles and miles away. Then when they drive their cars to the meetings, there's nowhere to park. To me this seems horribly unfair.

I love gathering in the auditorium to worship God along with 2000 other people. Talk about some great singing! One really cool thing is that, even though the majority of our UM churches in this region are pretty traditional, contemporary worship is showing up more and more at annual conference. At last night's communion service, the opening song was Chris Tomlin's "All My Fountains." You would have been amazed to see all the dignitaries processing in in their fancy robes while the praise band was going full blast and people in the congregation were raising their hands in worship!

I'm not so crazy about the business sessions with all the reports. But huge props to Bishop Larry Goodpaster  and the Committee on the Annual Conference Meeting for doing everything they can to reduce these and bring the focus back to worship, inspiration, and training.

For example, this year we're having ADAM HAMILTON speak. He's the well-known founding pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City--a prolific author, and a great speaker. People travel a long way and pay lots of money to hear him--and this year at Annual Conference, he's coming to us! This is actually quite awesome.

I love seeing old friends. It's like a family reunion. I get frustrated sometimes because, with so many people there milling around and saying hello, it's hard to have more than a surface conversation with anyone. Still, it's great to reconnect.

I confess with some shame that I usually go to Annual Conference grumbling and complaining that I have to be there. And sometimes during some of the reports and debates, I cop a really bad attitude. But usually by the end of the week I find myself inspired and refreshed, with a new passion for ministry, and ... (those of you who know me may find this surprising) ... glad to be a United Methodist and a member of the Western NC Conference.

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