Connecting at Conference
By Fred Koenig
If you were a lay member who attended annual conference this year, I have a favor to ask you: Don’t come back next year.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved our time together. It’s just time for us to start seeing other people. If it were up to me, I’d have you come back and bring friends. I find annual conference Session to be invigorating and inspiring, and wish more Methodists across the state could share in the experience.
At General Conference session I was speaking with one of my colleagues from another Conference, and she said a man had told her, “The problem with the Methodist church is all these bishops! I grew up in the Methodist church, and back then we didn’t have bishops, we just had our pastor.”
As the good readers of this magazine know, unless his growing-up days preceded Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury in the late 1700s, he was wrong. We’ve had bishops more than 230 years. But this person did not know that; as he hadn’t experienced his church in any manner beyond his local congregation.
I dearly appreciate all of the lay members of annual conference who give of their time to serve, and hope you can find others in your congregation to take their turn.
I love meeting new people at annual conference. This was easy way back in the day when we had most meals together, but I’m not above following someone to a restaurant and inviting myself to sit down at their table.
We did have one collective meal at annual conference this year – a Friday evening barbecue that celebrated 200 years of conferencing in Missouri. I came through the line late, talking with one of my friends, but then got separated from him as I sat down. I joined someone I knew and a couple people that I didn’t and enjoyed my dinner.
Despite the fact that I was surrounded by a thousand of the holiest people in the state of Missouri, when the rest of my table finished their dessert and left, I succumbed to the sin of gluttony and snuck back over to the dessert table for seconds on the largest piece of cake I could find. I returned to my now empty table and started gorging.
Rev. Andrew Moyer of The Light in Joplin came over to talk. I had met him about a year and a half ago when I wrote a story on The Light, and I had said hello to him briefly the night before. When he came over I thought he must have something to tell me, but he just made small talk, apologized for the awkwardness of small talk, and as I finished my cake we parted ways.
It struck me what had just transpired: Seeing someone (me) sitting alone, Moyer’s initial reaction was to think that perhaps that person was feeling lonely or isolated and could use some company and a kind word. Read all the books and go to all the seminars on church growth that you want, but I’m telling you it is Moyer having that reaction, and him modeling and instilling that ethos on others in his congregation, is why The Light has a couple hundred formerly unchurched people now involved in their church.
I hope this magazine gives you some sense of how annual conference session works and how things went this year, whether you just got back from it or you have never been. And if you have a chance, come as a member or a guest when we’re back in Springfield in 2020.