Friday, May 30, 2008

Reflections on Annual Conference +

I had to leave Annual Conference early this year to take care of a few work-related things. I left St. Cloud early, grabbed some coffee and headed up a fog shrouded I94 for home. As I approached the Avon Hills it started, a deep pull within and as I approached the exit, it was pretty obvious that I needed to stop at St. John's. I parked near the Abbey Church Bell Tower and started to wander around campus. The trees were heavy, dripping with the remnants of this mornings rain and the fog. I strolled past the monastic gardens, the red tulips were even more brilliant in the fog and they contrasted beautifully against the green of the lawn. Fog blanketed Lake Sag. It was still. It was beautiful. A bell tolled reminding me that morning prayer was soon to begin so I walked back to the Abbey Church and found a place in the choir in amongst the monks, several of whom I've had the privilege to have as instructors and classmates. I had thought about stopping for morning prayer but wasn't sure it would fit my schedule. As I sat, watching the monks file in, just has many of them have done for more than 75 years, just as their forbears have done for centuries, it dawned on me that I need to fit my schedule around morning prayer. I've been to morning prayer several times, but this was the first when the light really shone through the stained glass. It was truly a magical morning.

It is practice for the monks to read and chant the Psalms each morning. This simple approach to the Psalms is always fulfilling for me but this morning was even more so. I found myself deeply moved, tears streaming down my face, heart pounding, yet the chant was calming and I felt very at ease. I wish it could have lasted for a little longer. I've had some doubts about the path I'm taking. I realize that largely out of necessity I'm swimming upstream with the current path I'm taking. But after this morning I really have little doubt that I'm where I'm supposed to be in my life.

Back pedaling a bit to Annual Conference. Last evening was also a special time. I spent dinner at the home of friends, in the presence of friends, and then went to the ordination service. I've found that to usually be the highlight of Annual Conference - despite the fact that it has been moved to the Civic Center. This year was no exception, it was again the high point of the conference (although I must admit I'm not sure I'm comfortable with praise music during ordination). There were some other things from conference that I should mention as well. I did like Jim Winkler's talks and I plan to write more about that in the near future. As General Secretary of The General Board of Church in Society, I can't think of to many people with jobs tougher than his. I found it interesting that it took less than 5 minutes to pass the budget but I think we spent 45 minutes debating if fair trade coffee should be the only option served at Annual Conference. Honestly, I think that reflects well on United Methodists - we know that justice in the name of God and Christ is truly important. I was a bit disheartened when a few folks around me referred to it as "fluff". I'm not so sure they "get it".
Rather than giving a play by play here is my top ten list of highlights from Annual Conference 2008:

10. As a cheese head, the suggestion that we serve milk instead of coffee was awesome.
9. Books Revisited where I got some great deals on Wendell Berry books and picked up some commentaries on scripture.
8. Catching up with friends and former clergy.
7. Dinner and fellowship at Bill and Linda's
6. Meeting a couple of other bloggers that I regularly read.
5. As a table host, offering and serving communion to the guy running the camera behind me at the opening dinner.
4. Baptism at the Service of Ordination - that was just cool.
3. Having a child ask the questions of faith at the Service of Ordination - it got even cooler when I found out the young man was Zane, the son of fellow blogger Michelle Hargrave.
2. Watching the warm support that my friend David Bard got from the Conference for his bid to become a Bishop and his graceful and humorous response.

and the number one highlight from Annual Conference 2008:

1. The warm hug I got from Jim Gaughan when I told him about my studies at St. Johns and plans for ordination.
Thanks be to God.


Pastor Justin said...

The hardest things for me about Annual Conference were

(1) Missing Ordination because I had to leave to be back at church for a wedding rehearsal
(2) Missing my Fair Trade Legislation for the same reason

(1) Bishop's Episcopal Address
(2) Learning my legislation passed and that the others in my group's legislation also passed
(3) Hanging out with clergy I hardly ever get to see
(4) Duke Alumni Gathering
(5) Taking Dr. Morris to the airport

I am saddened to hear that some though the Fair Trade Coffee legislation was fluff. It was meant to both challenge our conception of how we spend our money, but also to witness to what it means to really live into the reality of Spiritual Vitality. It is going to be a hard task to get it all completed because of logistical issues, but I will be proud to be a Minnesota United Methodist next year when I see people drinking only Fair Trade Coffee showing that we care about "people" more than saving a dollar, etc.

David said...


It was great to see you at Annual Conference. One of my highlights was connecting with you again. I wrote some reflections about the poverty legislation on my blog.

Take Care,