This year's Annual Conference was a welcome surprise to me. After ten difficult annual conferences in the Pacific Northwest, including my ordination years, this year was different and surprising.
Annual Conference for the Pacific Northwest ended on Saturday after five days of holy conferencing. While I rarely, if ever, have referred to my experience of Annual Conference in this way, this year the mood of the conference felt like the way "church" should feel. There were no major conflicts on the floor of plenary, although some committees did experience acrimonious debate. The Discipleship Committee, on which I served as Vice-Chair, felt conciliatory in every way. Even when those "issues" which tend to divide were raised, our differences were aired with civility.
The most interesting time at the conference for me did not transpire during legislative committee or during debate on the floor. Rather, the moments that we spent as a conference in worship, celebrating our ministries, and looking to our future were much, much more meaningful. Worship this year was rich. As a pastor, I don't typically get to worship in the way that best nurtures my soul. Annual Conference offers many opportunities to receive the Word and Sacrament - very humbling. We had wonderful worship experiences last week, each one drawing us to the table of the Lord. The bishop's awards were given to an impressive group of people who have performed incredible ministry for Jesus Christ. The Ruth Award, given by clergywomen to a woman in ministry - lay or clergy each year - was a delight. The Nothing But Nets basketball game between the "Bishop's Bunch" and the "Youthful Yellows" was not only entertaining but spiritual. We raised over $5,000 (and only broke two bones on the old people's team!). Other offerings were no less important. For hurricane relief, we raised over $75,000! We collected old cell phones, used books, and change for Hope for the Children of Africa. We shared experiences of our mission trips and welcomed visiting speakers in our midst. And, of course, we commissioned and ordained those who have decided to offer their lives to the service of Jesus through the church. The bishop ordained and we welcomed into full membership six elders and two deacons. Additionally, we accepted one elder into full membership from another denomination, and three people were commissioned in preparation for Order of Elder. We celebrated the whole church. And this year like all years, I really enjoyed time spent with friends I don't get to see the rest of the year.
Of all of the things that happened, though, the election of our delegation to General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference was the most interesting and surprising. Our lay representation includes three young adults...awesome! Our clergy elected a surprising slate...also awesome. The first lay person elected was Amory Peck, with overwhelming support. She is a perfect witness for this annual conference in the general church. She was followed by Gail Grossman, Ryan Russell (young adult),
Peter Masundire, Mary Simpson-Stanton (young adult), and Barbara Dadd Shaffer. Lay reserves are Micah Coleman Campbell (young adult), Katherine Cosner, and Darren Wertz. The first clergy elected was Jin Ming Ma. What a wonderful surprise!! As is the case in many conferences, we tend to elect people who work in the conference office - people who have been around for ages and ages. Jin Ming Ma fits neither of those bills. She will be a wonderful voice for us at General Conference. She was followed by David Valera, Elaine Stanovsky, Craig Parrish, Bruce Smith (under forty years old), and Sharon Moe. Clergy reserves are Bonnie Chandler-Warren, Daniel Foster, and Crystal Sygeel (under forty years old). Our delegation is diverse in age and in gender as well as theologically, ethnically, and experientially. In a conference that sends only three voting members to GC, we have a difficult task to let the Holy Spirit move us into inclusivity, but this year we did it.
For the first time I had an unequivocally great time at Annual Conference. I hope the spirit that was alive in Tacoma last week will manifest in Texas next year, bringing the excitement and openness to new things that we experienced to the whole church.
For more details on what happened last week, go here.
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