It’s a Spring ritual. Old timers say it used to be an autumn ritual, but that’s before my day, and since I never experienced it, I can only write from what I know.
But every year when the Day Lilies begin to bloom, United Methodists start their annual pilgrimage to some meeting place where they all get together and make up conference. Like some wag once said, Methodist preachers are like cow manure. If you gather them all together in one place they raise a stink, but when you scatter them out, they do a little good. You might need to experience an Annual Conference to know what that means.
But at these big meetings, where Methodists have gathered for the past two hundred and thirty-odd years in regional gatherings, a lot of pretty important things get done. This is the setting where preachers are officially elected to ordination, their character approved for annual appointment (with appropriate exceptions for those whose character is under scrutiny for various reasons), and eventually given the retired status. It’s the setting where churches are officially chartered, abandoned and closed, and it also is the meeting where each year, at the close of the annual conference, the bishop announces the appointments of pastors to each of the churches or multi-church charges.
It is a meeting that is filled with singing, preaching, and observances that inspire members to greater service and dedication.
It is in the annual conference that we become aware of missional needs and ways to address them, we hear of ways churches are growing, and how churches can transform lives of people around them.
This year’s annual conference was also the time during which we elected delegates from our conference (which covers all of East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia as well as tiny portions of some surrounding states), to go to next year’s General and Jurisdictional Conferences. The General Conference is the global body that makes policy for the whole denomination known as the United Methodist Church. The Jurisdictional Conference is the regional body that elects bishops to serve the Southeastern portion of the US.
An old tale exists of a mountain circuit rider, named Wilburn Waters, a fellow who lived in the mountainous and isolated area surrounding Virginia’s highest peak, Mt. Rogers, along the North Carolina and Tennessee borders of Virginia. He was a dedicated mountain preacher, but he had his doubts about these big meetings. The story goes that he finally arrived at conference which was being held in a Camp Meeting shelter, open-air, and the meeting was already going on. It seemed the preaching was a bit dry that day, so Brother Waters, who had stopped in Abingdon on the way to Conference and purchased a brand, new hat, decided to take off his hat, kneel down on his knees and begin praying for the brother in the pulpit. As he did, someone nearby decided to rid their mouth of the collected tobacco juice they had been holding, and it almost hit his new hat. After that session was closed, the bishop found Brother Waters and asked him how he was enjoying the conference. Mountaineer that he was, Brother Waters responded, “Well, Bishop, I noticed the preacher needed some help in the service, so I decided to pray. I laid my new hat down and couldn’t really concentrate on my prayers as I was worried something would happen to it. Bishop, I think that’s what’s wrong with this conference, too many new hats!”
Is your hat new?