Body, Mind & Spirit

I know I’m atypical, but I go to the annual conference session to listen. I watch people. I take notes. I hear things. But maybe that’s the writer in me. I’m always listening for a good story.

Regardless, I have always believed the conversations we have with one another actually reveal the tone and the tenor of our conference. These conversations reveal our hopes, our fears, our triumphs and our defeats. The words paint a picture, and the picture reveals the realities behind our lives – what we really think and the work we are actually doing.

This past June in Muncie, I overheard much that strikes at the heart of what is happening among us.

Consider, for example, conversations among clergy who are moving to new appointments. From what I overheard, there is excitement in these new possibilities. Meanwhile, I heard quite a few clergy – many of whom have been in their current appointments for years – express how well ministry was unfolding and were anticipating new ventures in familiar environs. Sometimes an old charge can yield fresh approaches and renewed commitment.

I also overheard clergy talk about some of the laity in their congregations – how incredibly gifted their folks are. Pastors, it seems, like to brag about their people. And there seems to be a generosity afoot. I overheard several lay people giving thanks their pastor was returning for another year. So I guess many people love their pastors, too.

I met new friends this year. And some of these conversations focused on shared blessings and an exchange of ideas. Perhaps there is nothing like annual conference to banter about, and barter with, ideas that work – and I gained much from listening to what others had to say about worship, youth ministry or off-site campuses.

Listening affords an opportunity to discover how other people are hurting and how we can move aside of those who are afflicted with feelings of isolation, abandonment or illness. Some of our friends have loved ones who need our prayers, and others have experienced a death in the family this past year. At annual conference, I learned about some of these painful experiences and pledged my support.

I attend annual conference with friends – friends from the parish and church staff. Our time together was meaningful and our conversations fun. We were able to laugh at ourselves. Sometimes, when we listen to others, we realize how blessed we are and how fortunate we are to be doing what we do.

There were conversations about our incredible mission work in places like Guatemala with Tom Heaton and the Democratic Republic of the Congo with Bob Walters and Taylor Denyer, work that reflects the fact that we are, indeed, a global annual conference.

I’m glad I went to conference this year to listen. I heard plenty. There’s some really good ministry out there. It could be your congregation I heard about. It might have been you I was listening to.

I’m the guy with the big ears. Thanks for sharing the Gospel.

Todd Outcalt has written for magazines such as The Christian Century, Rev!, and Alive Now! He and Michelle Knight are pastors at Calvary UMC in Brownsburg and their upcoming book, He Said, She Said: Bible Stories from a Male & Female Perspective, is forthcoming in August from Chalice Press.