Annual Conference is off to a good start. This event is the United Methodist Church’s annual meeting, where 1,700 clergy (pastors) and laity (lay persons) gather to worship, learn, conduct business, and keep in touch with the many happenings within the conference. It is part business conference, part religious gathering, and part family reunion. This year’s conference is in Wichita, and there are many people from Grace here. Rev. Lora is here, of course, I am here as Grace’s lay vote, Madison Stumbough is a Southwestern representative, Shayla Jordan is a young adult representative, Sandra Fatuma and her family are here as special guests, and several of our retired pastors are here for parts of Annual Conference. Grace is well represented!
Today there was a special town hall meeting with the latest information on the proposal from the Council of Bishops on The Way Forward, which addresses how the United Methodist Church’s views on sexuality. There are three possible options for how the church can deal with this issue, but the Council of Bishops is recommending the One Church plan, which is the least complicated. This option would remove wording from the Book of Discipline that restricts pastors and churches from conducting same-sex weddings and annual conferences from ordaining LGTBQ persons. It would then add language to allow and protect pastors, churches, and conferences who choose NOT to host LGTBQ weddings or ordinations. Basically, each pastor, church, and conference would decided whether or not they would accept LGTBQ weddings and pastors. No one would be punished for their decisions either way. This would prevent a huge split in the denomination and allow United Methodist agencies and institutions to remain intact. It would also preserve our global church connections. The One Church plan is not perfect, but it is a reasonable compromise and it allows us to remain connected with each other, even if we don’t always agree. I think it is a good solution. We’ll see what members of the special General Conference in 2019 decide.
One of the great joys of Annual Conference is seeing people you know from your past. My dad was a pastor, as were most of his friends, so I have already seen many familiar faces. Today I’ve chatted with other Winfield folks, a pastor whom I babysat when she was a toddler, pastor friends of my parents, and a friend from my own church camp days who is now a pastor! I have also met some of Sandra Fatuma’s African friends, pastors from Congo and Zambia who are now serving churches in Kansas and Nebraska. The United Methodist world is very small, indeed!
This evening, we all gathered for the official opening of Annual Conference with a worship service. There was special music and a guest preacher. We began with a service of remembrance for pastors and the spouses of pastors who had died over the past year. Allen Polen and John ReQua were both honored. Next was the baptism of a baby. Some pastors choose to have their children baptized by the bishop with the conference members reading the congregational vows. We ended with communion. It’s complicated to serve communion to 1,000 people, but tonight’s solution was most interesting. Each person received a small packet which contained a communion wafer and a tiny sealed cup of grape juice. We all peeled the top of our packet and then ate and drank in remembrance together!
Thursday will be a long day of reports and parliamentary procedure. Please keep Pastor Lora and I in your prayers. Making decisions and discerning what will be best for the church as a whole is difficult, draining work.