I spent 5 1/2 hours of today driving all the way across Kansas and part of Nebraska. It was a beautiful drive! Our conference is so large that no matter where meetings are held, most people have to travel long distances to get there.
Annual Conference began this evening. The meetings are held in an arena and conference center on the grounds of the Nebraska State Fair, right next door to the sheep barn. I ran into four people I knew before I even walked in the door!
After registering, I had time to look through the displays set up in one hall. The booths have information on everything from mission projects to peace and justice to camps and colleges. I chatted with Britt Bradley at the Discipleship booth and Martin Rude at the Southwestern display.
The Camp Horizon crew was just arriving.
Annual Conference officially opened with a worship service. The organizers have worked hard to make the giant arena seem at least a little like a sanctuary by creating a backdrop, altar, and a cross on the stage.
There were impressive amounts of supplies waiting for communion. It takes a lot of bread and juice to serve 2,000 people!
Tonight’s worship service began with singing and a memorial celebration to honor pastors and pastors’ spouses who have died over the past year. Everyone was given small silk flowers as physical reminders of loved ones we’ve lost.
Then there were baptisms for three babies. Pastors sometimes choose to have the bishop baptize their children, since their kids don’t have a local pastor, just a pastoring parent, and no permanent local congregation. We, as members of the conference, recited the vows to help love and raise these children.
Scripture was read in both English and Spanish and Rev. Claudia Bakely, the District Superintendent of the Flint Hills District, preached. Her sermon was funny and touching, reminding us all that Jesus is our wise and patient shepherd and we, all of us, are stubborn and smelly sheep. There was more music, including new songs from a praise band, congregational hymns, and a few songs from an enthusiastic, if not very tuneful, children’s choir. We finished the service with communion.
After the worship service, there was Meet and Greet time for socializing. I saw many pastor friends I hadn’t seen in years. Lora and I chatted with former Grace pastors John Martin, Jerre Nolte, and Jim Reed and waved at former student pastors Isaac Chua and Aaron Duell. This was the Family Reunion part of Annual Conference! I even met Dirk Hutchison, who was Grace’s lay delegate when Jim Reed was pastor. It’s a very small world at Conference!
I am excited to be here and eager to see what tomorrow brings.