Annual Conference 2021 is in the books. The first-ever hybrid format that anyone has attempted to date. My hats off to our conference staff for their fantastic ability to manage and merge all of the moving pieces of technology required to host the event. This needed a ground-breaking level of expertise to pull off. The first afternoon’s meeting had to be rescheduled due to an unforeseen glitch in the technology.
While the conference staff, organizers, volunteers, and the Bishop tried to provide seamless integration of in-person and virtual attendees, my focus was very different. My goal was to visit, shake hands with, and reconnect with as many of my peers and acquaintances as humanly possible. We were up and out the door by 6:30 am. We picked up breakfast and buzzed over to the convention center.
By arriving early, we could stake out tables for our group and visit passersby. After lunch, I often retreated to the mezzanine on the upper floors to walk. The backside can only stand so much sitting down in lightly padded folding chairs. This gave me a birds-eye-view of the crowd, and I would make my way to see people I hadn’t yet visited. Most of the ministers I spoke with had been through a good deal of challenge, much like my own experience.
One of the primary components in any conference is worship, which we experienced at least twice a day. This year’s Ordination Service was really excellent. I can’t remember seeing so many pastors robed and processing into the arena. As I sat with one of my friends, and he noticed that I was listed as a participant in the early worship service the following day. No one had contacted me, but a quick follow-up with one of my friends on the planning team was enough to set things right. It was the first time I’ve ever had a role on the chancel at annual conference.
We heard some excellent preaching at the conference. The Bishop, our new DS, and several guest speakers provided messages to renew, revive, and refresh those in attendance. In addition, our Order-of-the-day presenters challenged us to think about church in new ways and see all of God’s people as persons of worth, beloved in the eyes of God. Dismantling racism is a focus of the United Methodist Church. We had candid conversations regarding the sin of racism in our country and in the church.
Make no mistake, this annual conference was not without its fair share of controversy. With the postponement General Conference and the tension around the delays of a pandemic, anxiety is endemic. It was easy to sense a high level of apprehension regarding a couple of proposals. As a result, we were treated to several impassioned speeches as the business session continued to play out Friday evening.
Going in, we all knew that this was going to be an atypical conference. That was no surprise. Leaving the meeting, we left tired but glad to have had the opportunity to gather, worship, and have vital conversations. Personally, I was renewed and revived to continue with the work of making disciples of Jesus Christ. Penny and I are more than pleased to be afforded another year of ministry here in Phillips County.
We want to offer our appreciation to the folks who joined us at the conference. Winston Turner, Bill Heidelberger, and Scott Russell are excellent leaders working to help navigate the complexities facing our denomination and local churches. We enjoyed the time we spent together charting a course for the future. I especially want to thank Bill for speaking Sunday. You will be hearing from Scott later this month. Winston will continue to serve the congregation at Pleasant Grove for the coming year. Refreshed by time to rest and reflect, we are excited to join you in accomplishing the mission of Jesus Christ!
And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28