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DYK - Annual Conference Wow Factor

Posted: June 24 2022 at 12:32 PM
Author: Rev. Arlene Christopherson, Ass't to the Bishop/Dir. of Connectional Ministries


Rev. Arlene Christopherson introduces the 2022 retirement class at the 183rd Northern Illinois Annual Conference.

Wow! That’s my first impression when thinking about the 183rd session of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference. The gathering was a mix of revival, homecoming, worship, business, celebration, and inspiration. I have not been to all 183 annual conferences, but I’ve not missed one in 40 years since I became a United Methodist, and this one was amazing. 

After spending 2020 and 2021 online with virtual annual conferences, 2022 saw a return to in-person conferencing. Online was necessary during the pandemic, we did what was needed, but the interactions were sparse, and the joy of interaction and conversation were missing. This year’s gathering renewed our relationships and gave way to engagement and the flexibility that is only possible in person. We not only leaned into the theme “Connected in Christ: Come to the Water,” we lived it! Water poured down upon us on the first day of the conference drenching those working to collect mission donations and reminding us of how powerful and refreshing rain can be. 

There was hugging, laughter, intense conversations, joy and energy as we “connected.” At every break before sessions and into the evening, people renewed friendships, made new friends and found joy in being together. 

This year, the Bishop’s Appeal went toward United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) support for assistance in Ukraine. We’ve been taking a Bishop’s Appeal offering for almost ten years, and this year the outpouring of support was phenomenal. As we come out of a pandemic and face the possibility of a recession, giving for the appeal surpassed anything we could have imagined. You gave $275,000 for relief – quadrupling past gifts. WOW! I was amazed and proud, overjoyed and grateful. The heart of United Methodists is with those who suffer, and when we see hurt and pain in the world – we respond. 

Taking intentional time to reflect with our table mates this year, our Annual Conference Shepherding Team co-chairs: Elizabeth Gracie and Myron McCoy, led us in sharing. We learned why each of us is United Methodist and reflected on how we build our faith and find spiritual renewal. The Shepherding Team sponsored a video booth inviting people to record a short testimony on what it means to be United Methodist. Over 100 video testimonies were filmed! WOW!

From the opening Memorial Service to the closing Ordination Service, we experienced lively music, robust singing, lots of conversation, buzzing around the display tables, and a Laity Session so well attended that some participants couldn’t find a seat. 

There was greater participation in the Retirement Service than I can remember from past years and it was truly a “preaching event.” As I listened to the reflections – really sermons – I regretted not having the opportunity to be in the pew of each retiree’s church over the years to drink in their wisdom, wit and insight. 

The Rev. Jane Eesley, one of our Elders and pastor at Christ UMC in Rockford, did a masterful job of walking us through the story of Phillip’s encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch, bringing us back to the theme of our gathering: “Connected in Christ: Come to the Water.” 

It was a WOW week and I hope that feeling carries into all our connections – from the lay members and clergy attending the Annual Conference to every member of every church in our Northern Illinois connection. Faith is strong, commitment is deep and connection has carried us through some very hard times. I can’t wait to see how we celebrate in 2023.

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