And So it Begins…


2013 New England Annual Conference & A Call for Accountability

Today,…With a car stuffed with T-shirts, water, traffic cones, and assorted race sundries…, I head off to the New England Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

For those of you outside of the Methodist fold, the Annual Conference is a unique beast.   For those of you who may not have met this beast; each conference represents a geographic division and is composed of equal numbers clergy and lay representatives from the local church.    For Methodists, the Annual Conference is the primary unit of denominational governance and the foundation of our connection with every other Methodist.

The Constitution of the UMC states it this way:

“The annual conference is the basic body in the Church and as such shall have reserved to it the right to vote on all constitutional amendments, on the election of clergy and lay delegates to the General and the jurisdictional or central conferences, on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its clergy members, (¶ 33. Article II)

But it is so much more than that.

If one would suggest that it is the local church where ministry  is accomplished, it is at the Annual Conference that the business happens.    Budgets are presented, clergy licensed and ordained, and countless resolutions related to social, economic, and church matters are proposed, debated, and amended.   This travels the course of days; sometimes at a dizzying pace; other times at a snail’s.

Sometimes, conference is renewing, edifying, and full of joy.  Worship at Conference is wonderful, and you always find yourself in the company of old friends.   You can leave refreshed, invigorated, and eager to serve in your community.  At the same time, conference often testifies as to what is wrong with the church.

In New England there are 1500 delegates to Annual Conference, of which the vast majority are white, over 60, and middle class;  much like our Sundays.    We tend to fight endlessly over points of order, wording of amendments, and who’s right and who’s not.    Toss into the mix the endless debate on homosexuality and the church, immigration, poverty initiatives and sometimes you leave the floor of the conference with a migraine.

Sometimes sitting in the pew of Gordon Chapel on the grounds of Gordon College (one of the few churches in the region capable of holding 1800 worshipers), you hear some truly beautiful things.   Sometimes what is said is ugly beyond imagining.   This is our journey as New England United Methodists.

Today, I head to Wenham, Massachusetts for my 13th conference (Lucky Number 13th).  While there I will direct our race, lead the assembly of Licensed Local Pastors and Associate Members,  reconnect with friends, find some time to run, and maybe sneak off to a pub to watch the Bruins play.    While there I will shake my head at some of the dumb things we do.   While there I will say Amen to the good.

As I depart, I ask for two things from all who may read this post;

First, I ask for Prayer.

Fellow Pastor from the Monadnock area, Arnie Johnson, wrote this morning that his prayer was that Grace, mercy, and peace be with us in truth and love from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, Son of the Father!” 2 John 1:3 (MSG).   Reading his words, I know of no better to add, so I will pray the same.

Second –and by far the most important – I pray that you stay in tune with conference.

With the blessing of cyber streaming, Annual Conference is now streamed to pc’s everywhere.   You can follow the heartbeat of conference on Twitter and Facebook.   As such, I urge you to tune in for whatever free time you can.   Be aware of what is going on.  The links are below.

See what is going on in your church.   Listen to what is being said.   Ask yourself, are their words yours?   Hold your pastors accountable for what they say or don’t say.   Listen to the Lay Members.   They are your voice, and you need to ask yourself are they speaking for you.  Ask yourself; is their presence, their words, and their actions at annual conference – for the next four days – making your ministry to your neighbors easier, more effective, and more impactful?

Listen to what they say, and what they don’t say…and hold them accountable for both.

When your pastor and lay representatives return ask them how they voted.  Ask them what they thought.   Ask them how they acted.   Ask them how they served you and your church.    Hold them up to your standards.

The Official Annual Conference Website of New England:

New England Annual Conference Webcast

Twitter:  #neumc

(Follow me at @afaster_pastor)

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