Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Annual Conference 101

John Wesley, founder of Methodism

   In the very beginning of Methodist history (the 1700's) there were no local Methodist churches, only Methodist preachers who traveled from place to place preaching to crowds a message of Repentance and Good News. Methodist preachers would then organize small groups for the new believers to stay connected and learn both to study the Bible and make offerings to support  ministry. Eventually local churches were started, and within a couple of decades Methodism came across the ocean and spread like wildfire across the American colonies. Back then, Methodist preachers met annually at a conference with leaders, like John Wesley in England and Francis Asbury in the colonies, to give reports of their ministry, to be held accountable, and to be inspired. 
   The first annual conference in America was held in 1784. Ever since then, regional groups of Methodists have gathered every year for Annual Conference. The South Georgia Annual Conference met this Sunday through Thursday at the UGA Conference Center in Tifton, Georgia. Laypeople and clergy from every charge are represented. Epworth and the Columbus District were represented by Jeanne Guilbeault, Lillian Wooldridge, Becky Britton and myself.
   Most actions taken by the 'body' will be expected and the unexpected ones will be talked about for a few days and then be forgotten. Some of the reports will bring applause, some tears, and a very few will bring debate. We will also be voting for delegates to represent us in 2012 at General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference. But the best stuff of conference is not in the legislative action or the balloting; the best stuff comes elsewhere. We will begin each day with a Bible Study, and pause for worship a couple of times a day. Monday night a new class of preachers, some young and some not, step forward to be ordained as Elders into the traveling ministry of the United Methodist Church. And in between every session and around every meal that the over 1500 persons in attendance enjoy, there will be exchanged fellowship, encouragement, and more than enough grace to send us all back to another year of great ministry together.
   Conferencing is one of the cornerstones of how we Methodists practice our beliefs. We remember Jesus' promise to be present with us when we gather (Matthew 18:20). Grace and Peace to you.

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