Annual Conference 2015
Annual Conference 2015
Jackson, TN. Carl Perkins Civic Center. May 31-June 3. Big Week.
Bishop Bill McAlilly presided and led the Conference in preaching and teaching and moderating the business at hand. He challenged us to match mission and evangelism. Drawing on the story of Jesus and the woman at the well, Bishop inspired us to see more clearly the people in our lives who appear as "holy interruptions", and to respond as Jesus did, in welcome and in love. We were blessed to have Bishop McAlilly preach at St. John's recently, and we continue to be grateful for his leadership of the Nashville Area.
A few highlights…
Resolution 1 Approved
Resolution 1 was approved at the 2015 session of the Memphis Annual Conference. Basically it sets the expectation that over the next year each district in our conference will host conversation regarding the inclusion of LGBT persons in the life of the church. Our UM Council of Bishops has stated that the church is not of one mind on this issue, and the discussion at Annual Conference reinforced that truth.
Because difficult conversations are easy to avoid and the right time never seems to arrive to have them, receiving the approval of the annual conference will make this a priority and will pull us toward talking with and listening to one another in a new way. The structure has yet to be determined but it will be a format where all voices can be heard, especially those in the middle who are frequently drowned out by louder, more forceful perspectives.
What I know to be true is that faithful Christians disagree about homosexuality. I am secure in advocating for full inclusion of LGBT folks because I know that we already have members in our churches and members of our communities who are both Christian and gay. We have friends and family and neighbors and strangers who desperately want United Methodist churches where they can safely and fully live out their call as followers of Jesus. I have come to this understanding not in spite of my faith or in spite of the gospel, but because of my faith formation and because of the gospel.
I also know that many faithful United Methodists have a different understanding and position regarding homosexuality. As a church, we have to voice this tension with respect and love for each perspective. Our best hope for drawing the circle wider and moving forward in unity is in being able to communicate more lovingly and effectively with one another.
What a gift that St. John’s is an open and affirming and welcoming congregation. Let’s continue to seek ways to share the story of our church and community and how our mission and ministry is only accomplished by keeping everyone at the table together.
I'll be honest. Conference this year was intense. There were high and glorious moments of worship and celebration of ministry and Christian community. There were also hurtful and contentious comments made. On balance I think both love and reason prevailed. That does not diminish the hurt but does bring hope for the year ahead.
This was the first time I helped bring a resolution to Annual Conference and the first time I approached a microphone to speak from the floor. It was a learning experience. But the real conversation cannot happen at microphones and true community cannot be formed through voting. The hope and prayer and expectation is that we make space for all voices to be heard, that we speak and listen in love, and that we hold always what is most essential - God's expansive and abundant love for us all and our call in return to love God and to love (and act lovingly toward) one another.
Johnny Jeffords (clergy) and Isabelle Dillard (laity) were both elected as delegates for Jurisdictional Conference! They will also be alternates for General Conference in Portland, OR. It’s going to be a big year ahead as they prepare to represent St. John’s and our Annual Conference. We were especially grateful for the support of Isabelle as a young adult delegate. It’s a much needed and too often unheard segment of our conference. Youth were actively engaged in two of our worship experiences and the youth address by Erin Bell of First UMC, Martin, was absolutely fabulous, challenging our whole conference to step up and serve faithfully.
Many thanks to our St. John's delegation. Gratitude overflows for your willingness to share so generously of your time and gifts, your good judgement and of course your fabulous and much needed injections of hilarity.
Clergy: Johnny Jeffords, John Kilzer, Scott Morris, Renee Dillard
Laity: Jaime Winton, Rae-Anne Pitts, Stephanie Sonnenfelt, Laura Harris, Woody Burton, Blair Burton, Isabelle Dillard.
Give them a hug as you see them. We have actual scientific proof (via a fit-bit health profile) that delegate work can cause sharp rises in blood pressure. Hoping all of you can breathe deeply and receive fully the gratitude for your presence and for representing our congregation so well.
It was quite a week. I've shared mostly about the parts that pulled (and continue to pull) at my heart. Many other reports were given and much business conducted - Another cool resolution passed, stating that every church (and other higher Ed and ministry settings) would partner with a public school and concentrate reading help for children K-3 grade. Our District Superintendent, Dr. Cynthia Davis, preached a Spirit filled, prophetic word at one of our worship services. We ordained three faithful elders: Rev.'s Dave Stewart, Greg Taylor, and Derek White. And we celebrated many more commissioned ministers, local pastors, and lay ministers who are all responding to God's call to preach and to serve.
And, as always, the best part of Annual Conference is the connection. I love seeing the people. Old friends, new friends, talking, hugging, laughing together. Attended the clergy women's lunch and the reconciling community lunch and caught up with so many others through a brief conversation or even just a smile from across the room.
Thanks be to God.