The theme for Western PA Annual Conference this year was borrowed from Igniting Ministry campaign (which our Bishop heads and which was largely birthed in our Conference, under the leadership of Conference Steward Rev. Larry Homitsky)...it was "Believe Again". The Bishop opened Conference this year by urging us to be less pessimistic, more joyful (you can read a news article about this here). The idea that we Western PA United Methodists need to be more positive, more optimistic, has been a key feature of Bishop Bickerton's ministry here in our Conference...and it has been greatly needed. With his passion and optimism, our Bishop truly has "re-ignited" ministry for our Conference. I love our Bishop and deeply respect him; of all the Bishops of the Church, and many are wonderful, we have the best!
Among the highlights of our session in Grove City this year were a great worship service (in the "Emergent" style) led by the folks at Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community, a wonderful job all the way around by guest preacher Bishop Violet Fisher, and the passing of a very ambitious strategic plan, designed to "jump start" our ministry attempts here in western Pennsylvania. Of course, a personal highlight for me is always reconnecting with sisters and brothers in Christ, spending some time with them, catching up, and lovingly making fun of a few of them. One evening of Conference for me and a few friends was spent heading north to Edinboro, PA, where we had a great dinner at John's Wildwood Pizza and spent some time together away from the busy-ness of Annual Conference. There are times throughout the year when I cling to these "light" moments, when we can relax, exhale, and just be the family of God. We - certainly I - need more moments like this! This is what, for me, makes Conference a means of grace.
A true highlight of the week for me was the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the granting of full clergy status to women in American Methodism. A few years ago, Rev. Sharon Schwab, a leader of our Conference, asked for volunteers to help plan this celebration. Shockingly, I was the only male who responded to her request...evidence that we still have a long way to go in terms of accepting women clergy. I believe wholeheartedly in the call of women to ordained ministry. Our celebration featured a powerful sermon by Bishop Fisher and a wonderful time of anointing and prayer to follow. Our female pastors deal with so much sexism - from parishioners, from our Conference, and from society at large - and I felt that this was a blessed night of rare affirmation for them, and a cause for joy for all of us.
On the last day of Conference (Sunday), while heading to the morning ordination service, I missed a step walking down the stairs outside my dorm, and really hurt my left ankle. By evening, it was quite swollen and painful. Monday, a visit to the local ER revealed that there were no broken bones but a severe sprain. So, here I am, walking around with crutches and an air splint, told to keep off my feet while we need to pack for our move. Life is like that sometimes...but praise God! We are not starving or living in a war-torn area or experiencing violence and oppression like many brethren in the world...just going through a minor setback! I have reason to rejoice! On top of that, at Wal-Mart the other day, I had a ton of fun in one of their electric wheelchairs, driving through the store and beeping the horn at people in my way...God is good!