The 2013 gathering of my Annual Conference begins this Wednesday. I will gather again with colleges and friends and other members and representatives of each and every United Methodist church in my geographic region. We will gather and sing. We will think of the Wesleyan songs, and ask each other “And Are We Yet Alive?”
And we are. Some of us have not survived from last year to this. Retired pastors have passed away, spouses and others have gone to join the heavenly chorus. But the room will be filled with living breathing bodies, celebrating that we gather together yet again.
The past year has been rough for some of us. Some of us have not been quite sure if we would be able to affirm the words of the song with total assurance. At some point or another in the year since we last gathered we have seen how the world is broken and hurting. Too many shootings and bombings and broken lives in the news keep our hearts and our souls hurt and weary. Simple disagreements have been blown out of proportion, and reminders of the broken world have kept us up at night.
We do not ride circuit on horses any more, but we still do gather together, thankful that we can once again declare that yes, we are yet alive.
Heartache and headaches have been visiting me more than I would like this past year. I am still grieving my Grandmother Janet who died in March. I am still figuring out how to best treat the migraines that I started having last summer.
But not everything is a heartache.
I am still serving two churches that are doing their best in their witness to the world. I will not be moving, and I am thankful that I have the opportunity to continue to build relationships with these remarkable men and women here in this particular place and time. I am considerably healthier now than I was a year ago, thanks to Spirited Life, my wellness advocate, and my support team. It no longer hurts to walk on my left foot. I drink more water and less soda than I did a year ago.
And now this week I get to go hang out with my friends again. One of the reasons I love Annual Conference is that all of my friends who are serving across the conference are all together in one place. It is like a family reunion for pastors. We rejoice together and join in the celebration that we have continued to be blessed to serve in this present age and time. We celebrate the way that justice continues to break out, and that we have been given the strength to deliver the prophetic message that can be tough and difficult.
We will join together, both laity and clergy, and at opening worship we will share the bread and the cup together, celebrating the fellowship of the table together. (Yes. I realize I said “together” three times.) We will have words of encouragement through bible study and words of teaching from Elaine Heath, and learn about a model of intentional community where she has found life. We will run and walk to raise awareness of Malaria prevention, and we will walk around the Lake where so many memories have been made and shared.
The business of Conference will happen, but the valuable part of conference is the time gathered under the trees, sharing conversations and stories of our lives of the past year or more. The sacrament is in the informal celebration and fellowship together, just as much as during opening worship and communion.
I will stand in support of those of my friends and colleagues who are being commissioned and ordained into the ministry of the church that we all serve. They will kneel in submission to being sent out, wise as serpents and innocent as doves. I pray that they will be shielded from evil, and preach the Living and Loving Word of God with courage and grace.
Eventually I will also be able to kneel and receive this charge; it is not yet my time to be on stage. But we all have been charged as a holy priesthood to go out and share this Gospel. It is the mission of the Church to teach and reach out in love.
This year we will be focusing on the words of Micah 6:8, to seek and do justice, love kindness and mercy and walk humbly with our God. These are words that I began to focus on over 4 years ago, and they remind me how much I need to depend on God and walk humbly through my work and ministry. I am excited to see and hear how we will be encouraged with these words from scripture this upcoming week.
For now I will work on packing my snacks for those long business sessions, and make sure that I have done everything on my list to prepare for this holy conferencing that we will participate in this week.
For my friends, I’ll see you at the Lake! And yes, we will celebrate that through all of the hurdles and roadblocks, we are yet alive to celebrate our hope and ministry of love.