As we move into the week of our 2016 Session of the Indiana Conference, I find myself saying to people, “See you at Conference.” Those words reflect my belief that our gathering is important on several levels. It is, as our new logo says, “a gathering of the United Methodist Churches of Indiana.” This is the one and only time all year that clergy and lay members and friends from our 1,123 UM congregations in Indiana get together for worship, fellowship, business, inspiration, and decisions about our future. “Conference” is part family union, part political convention, and part share-holders meeting.
For the clergy it is the gathering of the one congregation to which are clergy are official members (in our UMC, clergy are not members of local churches, they are members of the Conference). That is why so much of the agenda of the AC Session is about clergy – we ordain and commission new clergy, we retire older clergy, we memorialize deceased clergy, we appoint all clergy, and we spend a fair amount of our “business” time on clergy issues – all because the Conference is the place of membership for our clergy.
But it is not all about our clergy. In fact, we have more laity present than clergy, and of course excellent ministry is always a partnership between clergy and laity. It is our laity whose ministry makes the most difference in Indiana and around the world. We clergy should never forget that.
It is helpful to remember that the Indiana Conference is an on-going reality, not just something which exists 3 days per year. But we do gather for a few days each year to see each other face to face, to worship together, to be reminded of who we are, and to “confer” with God and one another. I like to think that we might approach our decisions with the attitude of the early church in Acts 15 where they made decisions by determining, “It seemed wise to the Holy Spirit and to us…” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we made all of our decisions in the church in such a prayerful way that we could affirm that same truth? When we conference it is not just about human wisdom or taking vote, it is about conferring with one another and with God.
I look forward to Annual Conference. Even though I am not a member of the Indiana Conference (we bishops have our membership in the Council of Bishops), this is my “home conference” and the place where I grew up, served, was sent away, and was brought back to be with you. Although this is the last time I will be present and serving as bishop of the Indiana Conference, it will always be my home.
So, I can say with genuine anticipation, “See you at Conference."