Thursday, June 17, 2010

Western PA Annual Conference 2010
in Review

We had a tremendous Annual Conference last week! From June 10-13, the people called United Methodist in western Pennsylvania gathered at Grove City College in Grove City, PA for our annual gathering. It was a time filled with grace, peace, and joy. For me, it was a time of challenge, renewal, and great affirmation. The "best" Annual Conference session in which I've been a participant was likely 2005, our first with Bishop Thomas Bickerton. This year will rank for me as a close second.

Some highlights for me:
(Pictures courtesy of Richard Pearson)

The pre-Conference healing service was wonderfully affirming (and healing!) for me as I saw and connected with several folks I've met in my ministry journey who have gone on to great ministries. If I share in the smallest part of their own journeys, I am thankful and thrilled. It was great to worship Almighty God led by Jeff Painter, an outstanding musician who was a vital part of my initial commitment to Jesus in 1980s at Jumonville.

It may have been the best, most positive Clergy Session in which I've ever participated. The 2010 Class of the Order of Elder is one of the finest I've seen, and, having worked with them as a retreat leader for the provisional program, I was very, very proud of them. They are an oustanding bunch.

We also nominated folks from among us to serve as candidates for election to the 2012 General & Jurisdictional Conferences. While I was honored to be one of 41 nominees, I was even more proud when every eligible Elder was nominated by motion from the floor. I love these people!

Additionally, there was a "painful moment of grace" when a former Elder, who had resigned due to legal trouble stemming from inappropriate conduct, joined us to apologize for his behavior. We prayed for forgiveness and healing; may that continue to be our prayer.

Annual Conference then started in earnest with prayer, worship, and work. The signing of a covenant between our Conference and the two Annual Conferences in Zimbabwe was a beautiful highlight of the week. Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa of Zimbabwe was a powerful, inspiring speaker. This relationship will, in my opinion, bear great fruit for the Kingdom of God. We will help Zimbabwe with material goods and resources; they have much to offer us in terms of mission and renewal. Kudos to Bishop Bickerton and all who helped put this agreement together; it's a great thing.

Each morning, we started with Bible study as Rev. Steve Cordle took us through some of Luke's Gospel. Steve serves as senior pastor at Crossroads UM Church, a multi-site community of faith which Steve started in 1991. Steve, his associate pastor Rev. Jonathan Fehl, and their team are doing phenomenal, transformative work throughout the Pittsburgh area (and the world), and it was fantastic to hear from one of our own who is doing things well. The Bible studies challenged me a great deal. I can't wait to take my family to worship the Lord at Crossroads in a few weeks when we're on vacation!

There were, of course, many other highlights...connecting with sisters & brothers I don't see often enough...three youth pages from JUMC, all of whom did a terrific job...enjoying the USA vs. England World Cup soccer game @ a local tavern with some friends...challenging speakers...a good bit of "down time" to enjoy fellowship...praying for folks and being prayed for...budget discussion that was murky at times but ultimately fruit-bearing...the always amazing Youth Ministry Team...some good legislation passed...keeping pension benefits for clergy widows, largely thanks to Youth delegate Joel Peterson...on and on and on.

Like every Conference, this one had its moments of chaos, confusion, and concern, such as the bizarre new security procedures, too much on the "Imagine No Malaria" campaign (it's a good thing, but it's just become such a dominant part of our conversations, sometimes at the expense of other urgent issues...overkill is not far away), a grotesque rewrite of the Drifters' classic "Under the Boardwalk" which ably demonstrated all that is wrong about "contemporary worship", and the completely out-of-touch "Rethink Church" commercial, which sounded like a lost cut from Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em (I kept waiting for my brother Greg Cox to hold up his uninjured hand and yell, "Stop! Rethink time!").

But, all in all, our gathering in Grove City was a great gathering; I was extraordinarily blessed. May the positive spirit we enjoyed last week carry us through the year ahead, which holds many challenges and opportunities. Thanks to Bishop Bickerton and our Conference Sessions Team for a job very well done. Annual Conference 2010 was certainly a means of grace.

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