From the Bishop

When I was appointed to Good Shepherd UMC in Fort Wayne in 1984, that congregation was still a new church (not yet 20 years old), and the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee told me that one of the things they wanted from their new pastor was help in "establishing new traditions." They explained that because they were still new, they were still shaping their traditions, their DNA, and their patterns of being a congregation. That was quite a challenge for me, because mostly, I had served congregations with a great deal of history in which part of my role as pastor was to challenge them to break out of some traditions that were no longer helpful. Now I was being asked to helped shape traditions, and I did not want to help create patterns which would one day be seen as unhelpful. I learned it is easier to complain unhelpful about old patterns than it is to establish helpful new ones.

We face the same challenge as the new Indiana Conference, especially as we prepare to meet for the first time in our Annual Conference Session. Rather than simply bringing along the old patterns of North and South Indiana, we have the opportunity to establish new traditions, new DNA, and new ways of being a Conference. It is quite a challenge for us. Most likely some of the ways we handle things this first year will start to establish some patterns for the future. We all want to get off to a good start and to establish healthy patterns, and that requires some careful thinking and anticipation.

So please allow me to suggest some starting points for a set of new traditions and patterns for our Indiana Conference, especially for our Annual Conference gathering:

  1. Come expecting something good and positive to happen. Come to Conference expecting God's presence and power to be in our midst. This is not just another meeting; it's a time for us to confer with one another and to ask God to confer upon us God's Spirit. Come to Annual Conference with expectation, not cynicism or apathy.
  2. Come prepared for the work. Read the reports, attend one of the Pre-Conference Briefings, discuss the reports with one another, and prepare for the decisions we will be making. Having 2,400 voting members present means that there is previous little time for floor debate or questions, so come prepared for things to move quickly. 
  3. Come with Christian love. Treat one another in a Christ-like manner. Don't label one another, ignore one another or misquote one another. This is not a political convention; it is a gathering of friends in Christ who are seeking God's direction. Even when we disagree, let's not be disagreeable.
  4. Come to worship, learn and be challenged. Annual Conference is not about our personal preferences. It's about helping our 1,200 churches to be more centered in God's will. For that to happen, we must start with ourselves, our own desires and attitudes. We will spend more time at this Annual Conference in worship and Bible in study than we will be business sessions, and that is intentional. We need to worship, learn, and be challenged, more than we need to vote.
  5. Come to serve. We will have mission and outreach time on Saturday afternoon, and of course we will be sent forth from our Celebration of Ministry Service on Sunday to go home and serve. Annual Conference is not an end in itself, its purpose is to gather, renew, and then go forth to serve.
  6. Come to have fun. Meet with your friends. Go to your various group meals. Meet new folks and build future friendships. Bring a spirit of fellowship and fun with you. There will probably be mistakes, slip-ups, and awkward moments as we meet in a new setting and for the first time as the Indiana Conference and I will probably make some of those errors. Let's give ourselves a break and laugh about those moments. We are called to take our ministry seriously, but we should not take ourselves too seriously.
  7. Come with a sense of gratitude for the past. Even though we are new Conference, we are building upon the foundations of so many who have gone before us. We will be remembering some of those persons on Friday night at our Service of Remembrance and Resurrection. As we start afresh, let's do that with a deep sense of appreciation for all those who served faithfully in the former North and South Conferences. Let's not fall into the arrogance of thinking we have done this on our own.

There may be many other traditions and patterns we need as the new Indiana Conference. Let's add to the list by our own behavior, decisions, and actions at this First Session. It will be a great event. See you at Conference.

Bishop Michael J. Coyner
Indiana Conference of
The United Methodist Church
"Making a Difference in Indiana …
and around the world"