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Annual Conference

Most of us don’t like the word “meeting.” When we hear that word, we think of long, boring and sometimes contentious gatherings where very little gets done and lots of time gets wasted. Have you been to meetings like that? I have, but not here. Honestly, I have never experienced that kind of meeting at Christ UMC. As it turns out, I actually enjoy most of the meetings I get to attend. Most of the meetings in our congregation are productive, fun and Spirit-filled. There is lots of laughter and creativity, and I’m always surprised to see how long people will stand around after meetings—even ones that run late—to talk and share together. To me, that’s a sign that we are not just about getting our business done. We are indeed about relationships.

John Wesley, the igniter of the Methodist movement, had a great word for “meeting.” He called it “conferencing.” He believed that conferencing was an essential spiritual discipline. He taught the early Methodists that there was no such thing as a solo Christian. You cannot follow Jesus if you don’t hang out with Jesus’ friends. Being part of a faith community pulls us outside of ourselves. It teaches us to love, not just in theory but in practice. We’re forced to talk to each other. We’re compelled to work out our differences. We learn to compromise, to speak the truth in love and to lay aside our own agendas. Just like prayer, reading Scripture and worship, “conferencing” is a means of grace. It is another way for God to reach us, shape us and make us more holy.

Last week, over a thousand of us United Methodists gathered at Brentwood UMC for our Annual Conference. We worshiped, had Bible study, disagreed, prayed and celebrated what UMC’s all over Middle Tennessee are doing in the name of Christ. Yes, the days were long. No, not every report or conversation was thrilling. But I experienced in so many ways the power of Christ through our connection. Let me give you just a couple of examples.

We heard about the Lazarus Project up in Clarksville, a new ministry which offers support and counseling to the families and friends of the military deployed. It started at the Wesley Foundation at Austin Peay University and spread to other Clarksville churches. We learned that Community Care Fellowship has received a special grant for their ministry to homeless children in Nashville. (Christ UMC supports CCF both financially and by providing lunch on the second Sunday of every month.) We celebrated Project Transformation, which is a new ministry that Christ UMC and many others are supporting. Twenty-five young adults (including our own Vanessa Parker) are providing day camps for underserved children at three different UM churches in Nashville’s poorest neighborhoods. We met a young woman from Liberty UMC who collected thousands of books for these children.

The list goes on and on. Our United Methodist connection is making a difference in our world. That’s one of the many reasons why I love being part of this church. Going to Annual Conference is not just another meeting. It’s a reminder that we are connected in the body of Christ in a powerful way. When we come together to worship, to make decisions, to order our life together and to pray, we are shaped by the Holy Spirit. We need each other. We can do more together for God’s kingdom than we can do separately.

If you want to know more about what happened at Annual Conference, find Hugh and Janet Charlton or Butch Malone. They were there to represent you, and you’ll want to hear from them, too. Thanks be to God for all that God is doing in and through our “conferencing!”