Annual Conference ‘Round the Bend

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?

2 thoughts on “Annual Conference ‘Round the Bend

  1. As a lay member of AC, I have found the worship and networking to be the most valuable.

    Last year, I attended the commissioning service for the new ministers. That was a powerful service, in part because all the ministers in the room were engaged by it. Also, I’ve never heard a group belt out the Servant Song like that before.

    Since I am not involved in the direct administration or the politics of the church, most of the petitions and even the votes on the budget are things I don’t feel much connection with. And, frankly, I’ve yet to see a truly “close vote.” Most of what we pass if by affirmation.

    One thing that would make more time is to kill off the reports by all the agencies and groups. These tend to be more promotional than informative. I understand that people want their moment before the whole AC to talk about what they have done, but I don’t think it does much good for anyone.

  2. Yeah John, I hear you on the reports. I’ve heard that Bishop Willimon has forced the reports in the North Alabama Conference to be very succinct and done by video. This would definitely connect with more people than a monotone reading of some report (not that there’s anything wrong with that 🙂 )

    You may notice the business session of their AC is only two days long. That may be too little time for real conferencing, but it does show us that the actual extras can be limited a bit more than has traditionally been done.

    It is significant that you mention worship as well, because it is a huge part of AC for me as a clergy member.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s