Today was a much calmer day at Annual Conference, with long stretches of voting and work on legislation.
The morning started with worship, led by the youth. Many of the youth here are a part of CCYM, the Conference Council on Youth Ministry. CCYM has teen delegates from every district who plan youth events like the One Event some of our youth have attended. These youth also get a laity vote at Conference. When I was in high school I was on CCYM and the very first time I read my poetry aloud to a group was during youth led worship at Annual Conference. Now as an adult I look forward to seeing youth at Annual Conference and watching the ways in which they lead. This morning we had great praise music, with youth musicians, and one of the youth preached. It was a good way to start the day.
The day’s session began with voting. We voted many times today, frequently without any candidate gaining enough votes to be elected. During voting, all legislation stops and we remain quiet for several minutes as people vote. Later, when the votes are tallied, the results are posted on the big screens and we pause to vote again.
We started working on conference legislation between rounds of voting. We passed resolutions on nominations, the Wesley Health Foundation, and the camping board. These were simple, completely uncomplicated votes cast by raising our hands – no voting devices needed!
We listened to the Treasurer’s report. Our Conference Treasurer, Scott Brewer, is by far the most entertaining presenter at Conference. He makes the numbers make sense and explains things simply, while cracking jokes and showing pictures of puppies and cartoons. We elected him to go to General Conference yesterday and I am so glad that he will be representing us.
We voted and then voted some more.
Late in the morning we had a guest speaker, Mike Mather, who works with people in poverty in Indianapolis. He talked about asset based community development and asking people “what gifts do you have?” instead of “what do you need?” He spoke about learning to see abundance instead of scarcity, of practicing hospitality, and of getting to know the people in your neighborhood around your church. It was all about Neighboring! For most of the people in the audience, all of these concepts were new, but for the Grace people these were things we are already practicing. It reminded us of how Neighboring has transformed our church and what a good thing that is.
We voted some more.
During conference sessions, voting members can sit anywhere they like. Most of the clergy sit with friends. Clergy meet together regularly and get to know each other well. For laity, it’s more difficult. We do not see each other anywhere outside of Annual Conference and lay members change from year to year. Many laity, including me, often sit alone during sessions or maybe with one other person we know. This week I have not had to sit alone, as Madison Stumbough, Shayla Jordan, Daniel Reffner, and Maddie Johnson have climbed up into the stadium seats to sit with me, session after session. This has been an honor and a delight. I have so enjoyed being with them, learning from them, and listening to their perspectives.
This afternoon, we moved on to voting on resolutions that have been presented to the Conference. This is church legislation and it works much like state or federal legislation, with a resolution presented, debated, and voted into law. Voting members all have copies of the resolutions to be presented and anyone can present, questions, defend, or amend a resolution. The Bishop explained all the rules for legislation, including microphone usage, coding systems, and time limits. The he pulled out a giant water gun and joked that is things got out of hand he would use it!
We voted on several resolutions, some of which ended up being referred on to a committee without every being voted on. There was an endlessly long debate about clergy health insurance compensation, including multiple amendments to an amendment. I had no clue what was going on and at some points I’m not sure anyone else did either!
Between resolutions, we continued voting. And voting. After 9 or 10 rounds, we finally filled all of the 7 clergy and 7 laity slots for General Conference. All of the clergy delegates are excellent and I feel good about their roles. The laity ended up electing four progressive delegates and three conservative delegates. I am less confident about this, but know that I did my best to elect people I want to represent me. By the end of the day, we managed to elect 3 clergy and 3 laity for Jurisdictional Conference, all of them good delegates. Tomorrow we will keep voting until all slots are filled.
This evening I went to the Service of Commissioning, Recognition, and Ordination. The worship service begins with a procession of robed clergy and all of the pastoral candidates.
There are hymns and liturgy and then the Bishop recognizes all of the Licensed Local Pastors, Provisional Elders, and Elders in Full Connection. These are like different levels of pastors. Pastor Maddie is coming to us as a Licensed Local Pastor. She has finished her seminary studies, but has not yet declared her candidacy. Pastor Lora came to us as a Provisional Elder, and next year Pastor Maddie will commissioned as a Provisional Elder. Provisional Elders are closely monitored and mentored and have limitations on their pastoral role. After two or more years of ministry, Provisional Elders can be ordained as Elders in Full Connection, earning the right to be called “Reverend”, to wear a stole, and to have full pastoral role in all settings.
There is always a guest pastor who preaches at the ordination service. This year it was Adam Hamilton. I have read several of his books, but had never heard him preach. He was wonderful, warm and funny and so affirming of the new pastors.
After more hymns, the Examinations begin. These “Examinations” are a series of questions addressed to the candidates. There are similar to the liturgy and vows we say at baptisms. After answering the Examination questions as a group, each candidate kneels before the Bishop to be blessed. The Bishop and other clergy who have played a role in the candidate’s pastoral journey lay their hands on the person and bless them. Family members and friends in the audience stand in honor of their loved one. In 2016 my family and I came to this very arena to stand in honor of Lora when she was ordained. Next year I will stand as Pastor Maddie is commissioned. It is a beautiful ritual.
When pastors are ordained as Elders in Full Connection, they are allowed to choose someone to drape a stole on them for the first time. Often the person chosen is a pastor that was particularly influential on their decision to follow a calling to ministry. Pastor Lora chose Rev. Jim Reed (who once was pastor at Grace). Tonight, Lora was the one who was given the honor of draping the stole on a new pastor.
The service ends with the passing of the mantle. This is a ritual based on the story of Elijah passing on his ministry to Elisha. At Conference, one of the retiring pastors symbolically hands over a stole, or mantle, to one of the newly ordained pastors, transferring leadership to the next generation. It is a beautiful ritual.
Tomorrow is the last day of Conference. There will be more resolutions, including one that Pastor Lora helped draft, and we will finish electing all of the delegates to Jurisdictional Conference. I am so grateful to be here, representing Grace and all of you.