We are in the midst of the information and technology age. Increasingly information is being transmitted by the Internet. This also is true as it regards our two Indiana Conferences and the soon to be Indiana Conference. Anyone who is in a position of responsibility that requires decision-making based upon information is going to be at a distinct disadvantage, as noted below, if they do not use the Internet. This is certainly the case for the lay member of the Annual Conference Session.
Local churches select officers and committee members for the following year usually from August through November. This includes selecting its lay member to the Annual Conference session. This is a critical position that is unlike any other position in the local church. This individual has the responsibility of acting on a multi-million-dollar annual budget and other issues that impact the local church's operating expense. Another major decision made during this year's conference sessions was whether to move forward in becoming a statewide conference.
Shortly after the Imagine Indiana Design Team published its Feb. 25 Preliminary Report online (printed copies were not provided to Annual Conference members) questions and opinions were expressed on the North Indiana Conference's e-mail discussion list known as "NICe-mail." Thus, a three-month "conversation" took place before the beginning of Annual Conference. This provided an opportunity to bring further clarity to the report and to explain how the local church would be affected. Unfortunately, many lay members are either unaware of the opportunity to receive NICe-mail (at no cost) and/or do not use the Internet. The Design Team received more than 100 questions regarding their report. They responded to these questions and a published online Q&A; however conference officials did not distribute a printed copy to the members of the Annual Conference session. Again, someone who does not use the Internet was at a disadvantage in not being able to access this information.
With a joint special session of the two Conferences taking place Oct. 4 and the Indiana Annual Conference session tentatively scheduled for June 25-28, 2009, it seems timely to become familiar with NICe-mail. To only read the posts go to http://lyris.nicumc.org/read/?forum=nicemail (also accessible from www.nicumc.org, click on "E-mail Lists"). A very simple registration process (your e-mail address and setting a password) allows one to post to the list and to receive posts by e-mail.
Throughout the year NICe-mail allows the lay member of the Annual Conference session to stay abreast of Conference life and evolving issues. In my opinion, it is essential that the lay member utilize NICe-mail (or whatever is similar in the new Indiana Conference). However, all laity have the opportunity to do so.
In 2004 this writer created and continues to administer what is now (an unofficial conference Web site titled) www.laityumc.org. This site is not sanctioned by the UMC or any of its conferences or associated units. Its purpose is to further inform the laity of topics and issues that are not readily and conveniently available from other sources, particularly as they regard the North Indiana Conference and the soon to be Indiana Conference, as well as the UMC in general. Other Web sites that can be helpful are: www.nicumc.org, www.sicumc.org, www.inareaumc.org, and www.umc.org.
"Connection" is a term frequently used in our denomination and it can mean several things. However, in this context I think of it in terms of the lay member of the Annual Conference session being well-informed for the decisions that must be made. The Internet and NICe-mail are instrumental in accomplishing this.
Russ Phillips serves as a member of Fulton UMC in the North Indiana Conference.