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More than an annual conference

Posted: May 30 2017 at 12:00 AM
Author: Bishop Sally Dyck

Years ago Ken and I took our two Ohio nephews, who were 11 and 15 at the time, on a cross-country road trip, starting in Cleveland. We went to Yellowstone National Park where we met up with four other nephews from Utah. All year there was excitement between.

All year there was excitement between the six nephews in their back-and-forth planning, conversation, anticipation, and preparation for this rendezvous in Yellowstone. When we all got to Yellowstone, with six boys under 15, we did everything. We didn’t just see Old Faithful; we explored everything around it. We didn’t just stop at Tower Falls; we hiked all around it. We didn’t just look at Mammoth Hot Springs from
afar; we traipsed all over it. We looked at every buffalo and discovered wildlife. We fully explored Yellowstone!

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On the last day, we didn’t get back to our campsite in time to make dinner and clean up before dark. We were all a little tired, so Ken and I decided to stop at one of the cafeterias and eat there. We got them all fed. The youngest one—who was five at the time—finished first. He began to wander around so I put him on my lap. While we were talking, he yawned and I said, “We seem to have worn you out in Yellowstone.” He looked up at me in total confusion, his face scrunched up as if he were trying to decipher some strange language. Then he asked, “Are we in Yellowstone?” Evidently, no one said to him, “You are now entering Yellowstone!” When we went to Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower Falls and the rest, he didn’t
associate those under the overall concept of “Yellowstone.” He saw them as separate places, perhaps leading up to the anticipated Yellowstone!

As we prepare for annual conference, I have the same feeling: we define annual conference as an event—the sessions that delegates go to each year. Some conferences call what we do from June 4-6 as “annual conference session” to distinguish between other definitions or functions of the annual conference. All the
churches in Northern Illinois are the annual conference. You are the annual conference! There is no us and them. Whether it’s 77 W. Washington or your local address, we are all the annual conference.

Even at the sessions of annual conference, we may view and value various aspects of it as separate events. Worship, fellowship dinners, caucus gatherings, legislation, commissioning and ordination, education, and celebration of ministry are all separate parts of the sessions. Together they are our annual conference

Some clergy and lay delegates like some of these separate components within our annual conference sessions more than others. Some remember when legislation was the major focus of annual conference sessions. Increasingly in our annual conference and across the church, there is less legislation and more worship, Bible study, and/or education. These are the components that help to shape us and help us remember our identity as “the people called United Methodist.” It is the annual conference that enhances and extends the United Methodist witness beyond our geographical bounds and connects local churches to the world beyond. In these times of uncertainty within our denomination, strengthening our identity as United Methodists and connecting with the wider world is important.

Some of us remember when annual conference sessions would last almost a week! I’ve worked at getting annual conference sessions to a shorter period of time. A shorter time frame saves on cost and hopefully allows people to attend for a few days who otherwise wouldn’t be able to come for a full week. But by so doing, it means we have long days and a full schedule. However, we try to have a flow of the various components to make it easier to attend all the sessions! For instance, we will have legislative work as well an educational opportunity with our worship leader, Dr. Marcia McFee, on Monday evening.

If you’re clergy or a lay delegate to annual conference sessions, I look forward to seeing you throughout our time together and hope that we will keep the whole in mind throughout our various components of work, worship and fellowship. If you’re not clergy or a lay delegate, listen carefully to reports from the conference
communications and your clergy and lay delegate(s). Far more happens that ultimately affects local churches than just “hot button” items!

We are making changes in how we function as an annual conference so as to better equip local churches to make disciples, to reach new people, and to engage in our communities. Legislation for a new organizational structure will be before us. There are petitions that address what is happening in the world around us.

Worship will be wonderful with Dr. Marcia McFee. But remember, as annual conference sessions occur, the “annual conference” is more than just three days of meetings. Whether you’re clergy or a lay delegate, you’re still the annual conference!

My 5-year-old nephew is now in his late 20s. He grew up and he knows that Yellowstone is all those experiences and more! As United Methodists, sometimes we need to “grow up” and learn more about the church we’re a part of locally, regionally (Northern Illinois Annual Conference) and also globally.

~Bishop Sally Dyck

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