Having written many travel articles over the years – tips for those vacationing in Hawaii, California or New York, for example – I feel obligated to offer this travel guide to Annual Conference. My hope is that this guide will be especially useful to those first time attendees or to those who have accidently wandered into the Indiana Convention Center searching for a complimentary restroom.
Annual Conference, just like any major travel excursion, requires planning, competent packing and a good pair of walking shoes. Members, both lay and clergy, going to the AC should pack an umbrella, clean socks and the Gideon Bible from your hotel nightstand. Don’t bother bringing reading material as there is a Cokesbury bookstore in the exhibit area adjacent to the worship center. And, in case you don’t know where the Convention Center is located, keep your eyes peeled for those people who are walking the streets wearing name tags. These people are likely going to the AC. However, if you meet someone dressed like Captain Kirk you’ve either stumbled into GenCon or are following a District Superintendent.
Representatives to AC will appreciate the spacious confines of the Convention Center, and with more than a million square feet available for roaming, your odds of meeting anyone you know is slim. That is why your nametag is important, and without it, you can’t receive the 10 percent discount on nachos in the food court. Be aware, also, that you may want to attend AC under an assumed alias, especially if you are clergy and are expecting a new appointment.
The AC sessions will offer an array of experiences, and no doubt you will want to record hours of the proceedings on your video app. Keep your eyes peeled for these photo ops, but watch, especially, for old friends, for former clergy you’d rather avoid or for those unexpected “glory sightings” – such as people doing Christ’s work. (This may not be apparent at first, but keep looking!)
In order to fully maximize your AC experience, make time for conversation over a cup of coffee (there is something like a dozen Starbucks locations within walking distance of the CC and at least one Steak ‘n Shake). You also will enjoy the worship, the reports and the voting. In addition, the hundreds of vendor booths will allow you to purchase curriculum, groceries and vinyl siding for your home.
As you encounter AC, keep in mind that its mysteries are legion. You will only get out of AC what you put into it, excluding tips. And no doubt you will overhear people using disparaging phrases to describe the experience. But remember: you are attending AC for a reason that only God knows, so you should stay positive and do all the good you can. In fact, you may come away from AC with a deeper appreciation for the church and, weather permitting, actually enjoy it.
At the end, you will look back on the AC experience with fondness and kick yourself for not bringing your camcorder. Oh, and don’t forget where you parked.
This is Todd Outcalt’s thirty-fourth annual conference. In addition to writing regularly for Preaching, YouthWorker, and MinistryMatters, he is the author of thirty books in six languages, including Portuguese, a language rarely heard in Indiana. His latest and upcoming titles in 2014 include The Other Jesus, Common Ground, and Where in the World We Meet (his first poetry collection). When he’s not at AC, you can catch him at Calvary United Methodist Church in Brownsburg, Ind.