Our Oklahoma Annual Conference begins on Sunday. Andrew Thompson of gen-X Rising had an interesting post the other day asking, “What does it mean to conference?” I think this is an increasingly important question, especially if we as a denomination want to take reaching young adults for Christ seriously. I agree with him on several points,
The United Methodist Church is not, and should not be, a congregational system. And neither should annual conference devolve into simply a business session that must be endured.
I know annual conferences vary widely in how they are perceived and how they are conducted. I have actually been very encouraged in recent years by changes that the Arkansas Conference has made to put worship and ministry resourcing front and center. On the other hand, changes could still be made to improve it. For instance, I understand why we have petitions. But they are often distracting and create more polarization that consensus. Would it be so bad if we simply decided not to debate and pass resolutions??
Conferencing is very important, and it shouldn’t be left by the wayside for a congregational polity, but I agree with Andrew that there may be several ways to improve it starting with his suggestion to leave out the resolutions (perhaps handle this in a separate gathering that leaves time for conversation instead of polemic).
I also think we need more intentional time for networking. We are able to do this over meals most of the time, but we need more time to get with pastors and see what is working and what isn’t. If one sits in every single session, there is not much room for this invaluable aspect of conferencing. This will be increasingly important for my generation of clergy, I believe.
Andrew gives us a few more insights in his article “Can We Learn to Conference Together?” where he writes,
The annual conference is the place where the church membership of every elder and deacon is held. It should be the place where our hearts are held as well. If we take a Wesleyan view of conferencing and of the covenant relationships that are nurtured through it, we can gain a model of how to survive and thrive in a world that is decidedly inhospitable for ministry in the church.
This is another excellent article. I thrive on the relationships I have from the connection, and I look forward to nurturing these through the time at Annual Conference. Hopefully we can fulfill this Wesleyan view and deepen our covenant relationships through the very structure of the AC itself.
Any thoughts on how we can do this?