Hang out with United Methodists long enough, and you’ll eventually hear about Annual Conference. Not General Conference–the thing that ended a little while ago in Portland, Oregon–but Annual Conference. You probably figured out how often this one meets. It includes (in theory) an equal number of clergy and non-clergy (laity). What’s not obvious from the name is that it has to do with all the pastors and lay church representatives from a geographical area, which we, never tired of the word, call the annual conference. Go figure. Here in Albion, we’re part of the West Michigan Annual Conference. The other half of the state is called the Detroit Annual Conference, and it includes the U.P. Because once upon a time, that made sense to someone. In a couple of years, this information won’t matter, because we’re in the process of becoming one conference for all of Michigan.
This year, we’re meeting at the Breslin Center in Lansing. We chose such a big place because both conferences are meeting in the same place, and overlapping our times. We’re hoping this makes us friendly, but it’s possible we’ll all just be cranky from not knowing where anything is. Next year, we’ll be meeting up near Traverse City, where they know what to do with tourists.
Apart from the new conference thing, we have to discuss and vote on a few things–fewer than usual, because General Conference just ended, and there’s no point sending them new resolutions for a few more years. We have to discuss and vote on whether to affirm a sort of promise that we’ll keep loving each other and working together even though we disagree about sexuality, and immigrants, and some other things. And we’ll set a budget and change a few small rules.
Because we like the word so much, we (OK, not I) call the process “holy conferencing.” To be honest, the original verb was “confer,” so the gerund should be “conferring.” Instead we took the original verb, turned it into a noun by adding “-ence,” and then added “-ing,” as if we wanted to make doubly sure that no verbs got into the room.
My favorite part of Annual Conference is not the abuse of the English language, but the people. It is an extrovert’s paradise, which leaves the rest of us rather exhausted by the end. But it is a place for catching up and sharing with old friends, and now and then encouraging someone who is preparing to begin a life of ministry.
We’ll also worship and hear bishops preach, and we’ll eat lots of food. The worship will be well thought-out and of high quality. I know because my son is involved with that.
After I get back home, I promise to tell you about it.