In the aftermath of our First Session of the Indiana Annual Conference, I am receiving lots of feedback by e-mail and by letters. Overwhelmingly the response has been positive, with many saying something like this, “It was more than just a meeting, it was an experience of being the church.” I think that is because Annual Conference included times of teaching, inspiration, and outreach, along with business.
Of course not all of the evaluations will be positive. There are things we need to fix or at least improve. There will be a post-production meeting with the folks at Ball State to sort through those. Our Sessions Committee will meet later this month to review all of the evaluations and to consider schedule adjustments for next year. We all had to learn about a new site and different facilities, and that was a major adjustment for everyone. The Conference dealt with some very difficult issues, and we are learning how to conduct business as a larger group.
I watched the new conference make some good decisions, or at least it seemed to me that the wisdom of the group prevailed. The Conference voted against dropping a health plan for our retired clergy, but instead adopted two plans which our retirees can choose, both of which have substantial subsidy from the Conference based upon years of service (which is probably the most fair way to determine the levels of subsidy). The Conference voted on the General Conference amendments and mostly followed the lead of what other Annual Conferences have approved. The Conference adopted a very slim and cautious budget, which caused tough decisions about what items to include, but that same budget also includes an "Emergency and Emerging Ministry Fund" which the new Leadership Table may use to help some of those areas which were dropped or reduced in the budget. And of course the new plan of a Conference tithe (10%) and a district asking (1%) means that local churches as a whole will have an extra $3 million to use to support those ministries of their choice. All in all, the Conference made a lot of good decisions, at least from my perspective.
But I keep thinking about what I said in an impromptu interview with a newspaper reporter in Muncie. My comment was quoted in a very nice article in their local paper (even though they misspelled my name as Conyer). Here is what I said, “We did not want to come to Muncie and just have a meeting, we wanted to make a difference.” That comment summarizes what I am hearing from so many people, including some clergy who have written to tell me that they were thinking of leaving United Methodist ministry until our First Session reaffirmed for them why they are in ministry in our United Methodist Church. Wow! Those kinds of comments are great to hear.
So our historic First Session is behind us. It feels like some things in our new Indiana Conference are coming together. Will this year (and maybe the next few years) still be “messy”? Probably so. And yet the afterglow of this First Session will continue to guide us into our future.
Thanks to all who helped to make our First Session a great one. It was more than just a meeting.