I am packing and getting ready to leave for the North Indiana Conference Session this week and the South Indiana Conference Session next week. As I prepare for “conference” I realize that we all use that word in many different ways.
- “Conference” is the name of the geographic area. So the North Indiana Conference is a geographic area in the northern part of the state, and it is officially and legally listed by the counties in includes (you can see that list in the Journal of the Conference).
- “Conference” is the name of the organization of local churches in that Annual Conference. So the “South Indiana Conference” is not just a geographic area, it is also the name of the organization of the 600+ churches in that geography.
- “Conference” is the name of the annual gathering of the clergy and lay members of that organization. The North Indiana Annual Conference is both the same of the organization and also a description of the fact that those clergy and lay members meet once a year, unless there is a called special session or meeting of the Conference. If we were going to be more accurate, we would say that the meeting this week is the “Annual Session of the North Indiana Conference.”
- “Conference” is also the name given to the hired staff, office, and organization of the Conference. So we often use the word “conference” when we mean the conference staff or conference committees or conference organization.
Unfortunately we too often use the word “conference” as if it were “someone else” rather than understanding that the word applies to all United Methodists within the geographic bounds of the particular Annual Conference. The “conference” is not someone else, it is all of us together. Every member of every local United Methodist congregation here in Indiana is a part of either the North or South Indiana Conference. Every conference staff person, committee member, clergy or lay member to the Annual Conference Session – all of us are a part of this thing we call “the conference.” That is why the annual Session of the Conference is a democratic voting process where every vote counts. That is why all decisions of the conference are made by those elected to represent their local churches. It is never fair to go home from the Annual Conference Session and to say, “They did this” or “they did that.” It is only fair and honest to say, “We did this.”
How do you spell “conference”? I spell it “all of us.”
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner
Indiana Area of The United Methodist Church