Report from Annual Conference

I’m not sure how many June newsletter articles I’ve written at Annual Conference, but my guess is that it is “every” June newsletter article. It has been a busy annual conference this year with elections for the 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis as well as the Jurisdictional Conference delegates who will go and help our General Conference delegation elect bishops and attend to more regional matters of business. That meeting will take place in Little Rock. I’m proud to be sitting here with our Lay Delegate to Annual Conference, James Madere. He always gives an informative outline of the results of Annual Conference to our church in one of the Sundays that follow. I’m also overjoyed to be here with retired colleagues who make our church home. Rev. Dr. Bill Moorer, Rev. Dr. Joe Langley, and Rev. Carole Minter have all attended and cast important votes for our delegation and for matters about our pensions and health benefits. Annual Conference is a good time to reconnect with colleagues and friends as well as hear reports from our various shared ministries we support.
Rev. Joe Harris, the newly elected head of our 2020 General Conference Delegation, addressed the body in a moment of personal privilege at the end of the conference. He expressed hope in what the church is and can be in the midst of the chaos in the fallout to the called General Conference of February of 2019. He served as the chair of the committee at General Conference in the first days of that conference before the business moved into the plenary sessions chaired by the bishops. He spoke about how uplifted he felt to be held in prayer by thousands of people during that task. Have you ever considered how many people are praying for you in a day? That’s something the Annual Conference reminds me of, sitting here with more than 1000 other Methodists from around the state, some of whom I know from various shared activities, and some of whom I do not know. Each week, we lift up people in prayers of joy and concern. I hope that like Joe, you find that to be a source of strength.
Prayer is an important foundation of decision-making. Many “moves are being made” after a recent meeting at Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City among representatives chosen from each United Methodist Conference who are dissatisfied with the witness of the church put forth by the 2019 Conference. Moderates and progressives coordinated efforts to have adequate representation on our General Conference delegations which might resist the Traditionalist plan which has been passed. At this Annual Conference, we achieved a clergy delegation that has a majority of clergy that are opposed to the traditionalist plan. The lay delegation was a sweep of people who have been endorsed by the caucus that supports the traditionalist plan. In Texas, there was a sweep by progressive and moderates on that delegation. It will be interesting see how the delegations shape up during Annual Conference season. That might be a forecast of what kind of moves the 2020 General Conference might make. There will also be considerations of different paths altogether. The Leadership Summit at Church of the Resurrection in October will be devoted to the future of the denominational structure of the UMC and alternatives that might take shape. As you’ve been in prayer about this for the past couple years, I ask you to continue. We’ll need wisdom and discernment in our local congregation as well, especially now that we’re devoid of the significant leadership of David Helm.
Closing worship was led by a friend of mine who is an openly gay student who is serving small churches as a student minister and exploring the call to ordination (which isn’t presently open to him.) The service was about barriers, and God’s triumph over them. I don’t presently know how God plans to overcome the barriers put up by our 2019 General Conference, but I am confident that God plans to, because I’ve seen God working in people like Jay, and I’m confident God would have him serving the church in ordained ministry. “If I may walk in your steps, then I can see clear. If I’ve lost my way, I have nothing to fear” were the lyrics to the song that we sang as the closing communion was being set. It was a hopeful song in the midst of a denominational gathering of a church that has lost its way. That song is my prayer as I leave this place.