This coming Saturday I will be attending the Iowa Annual Conference. This will be my second Conference but my first time to attend while under appointment in a United Methodist Church. For this session I will be sitting with the pastors and members of First United Methodist Church in Cedar Falls. And I will have my first opportunity to vote on legislation that comes before the Conference.
During this session the Clergy Session of the Conference will vote on my Provisional Membership in the Iowa Conference. So I am excited for that milestone in seeking to become an Elder in Full Connection in the Iowa Conference of the UMC.
While I am at conference I will try to find time to blog about my impressions of the Conference experience. Having attended last year as a visitor I can already tell that there are significant differences in Conference meetings versus the Baptist denominational meetings I attended in my previous ministry before seeking to move into UMC ministry.
The Iowa Conference conducts a great deal more business and spends several more days in meeting than my most recent Baptist experience. The most recent Baptist annual meetings I attended were much more for training and fellowship. Governance was much more in the hands of a region board.
The system of representation is different as well. The Conference is made up of an equal number of clergy and laity. Each pastor gets a vote at Conference and is expected to attend. Then, through a series of formulas, laity are chosen from each local church in an equal number to the clergy. Additionally clergy are not members of the local church they serve in but are members of the conference. Because of the appointment system this makes a lot of sense. And honestly it makes much more sense to me than the pastor being a member of the local church she or he serves. Why? Because you really aren’t a member of that local church in the same sense that the lay people are. The lay people know you are not there forever. You will most likely move to another church as some point. They know that your role is different than theirs. And they know they will be there long after you have moved to another church. So it makes sense not to act as if your role in the local church is the same as lay church members.
During Annual Conference there is also some wonderful worship experiences, including the Service for Ordering of Ministry. This is the time when the Bishop ordains Elders and Deacons as well as recognizes orders etc. Last year it was a moving service.
For me last year the biggest moment at Annual Conference was when the Bishop stood at the podium to fix appointments. The way the system works now we all knew what our appointment was to be. But in a very worshipful and formal way the Bishop reads the names and places of new appointments. Those receiving new appointments shared with the conference in a time of worship and commitment. This was when I received my first appointment in the UMC and it felt good to receive that new appointment with pastors from around the state and that appointment witnessed to by the larger body of Christ in Annual Conference.
John Wesley called “Holy Conferencing” a means of grace meaning that when we gather together in Conference as the body of Christ we have the opportunity to experience God’s grace and presence among us! I look forward to gathering at Annual Conference this weekend! My it truly be a time of Holy Conferencing and time of experience God’s grace as we work together.