In a few short weeks, I will be privileged to preside at my first session of the Minnesota Annual Conference Session. I am filled with anticipation!
I am anticipating learning much about the culture of the gathered conference community. I am anticipating a joyful outpouring of God’s grace through our worship, holy conversations, and reports of God’s transforming activity. I am anticipating our being unleashed as bold, spiritual leaders of the Methodist Movement in Minnesota. I am anticipating extravagant generosity expressed through our Love Offering and cleaning (flood) bucket initiative. I am anticipating celebrating the ministries of our retiring pastors, those being commissioned and ordained, and those who have joined the communion of saints. I am anticipating hundreds of clergy and laity joining in an Unleashing New Life Prayer Movement. I am anticipating the best annual conference session ever!
As we gather in St. Cloud, we will participate in one of the historic, yet refreshingly relevant, means of grace identified by John Wesley when he urged the people called Methodist to “attend upon all the ordinances of God,” or as Bishop Rueben Job translates, “to stay in love with God.” This unique means of grace is called holy conferencing—entering into community for the purpose of:
· mutual support and accountability
· thoughtful, prayerful, respectful discourse and discernment
· spiritual encouragement and instruction
I, for one, anticipate this annual ordinance, this annual discipline, this annual means of grace, this annual session of holy conferencing. We are a people of grace. And I expect to grow in grace during our annual conference session. What are you anticipating as you prepare for conference? What do you expect God to do with and through you at conference?
I invite all clergy and lay members of the Minnesota Annual Conference to covenant with me to make this session a true means of grace. Our covenant might include the following elements of holy conferencing, many of which you may be familiar with or have previously affirmed:
· Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).
· Put on the clothes of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and above all, love (Colossians 3:12-14).
· Be in unceasing prayer for the Holy Spirit to bless our gathered community and guide all that we discuss, discern, decide, and do.
· Remember that every person is a child of God. Always speak respectfully, as if speaking to God. Remember that people are ultimately defined by God’s love for them—not by the flaws we discover, or think we discover, in their views and actions.
· Listen patiently before formulating responses. As you listen and observe the behavior of others, be open to the possibility that God can change the views of any and all parties in the discussion.
· Strive to understand the experience out of which others have arrived at their views.
· Accurately reflect the views of others when speaking, especially when you disagree with their position. Avoid making generalizations about individuals and groups.
· Refrain from using inflammatory words, derogatory names, or an angry voice. Utilize inclusive language that reflects the breath of God’s love and the beauty of the Body of Christ.
· Enjoy the goodness of being together, renewing friendships, and making new acquaintances. Share an ice cream, coffee, or meal with someone who holds an opinion contrary to your own.
· Worship the Lord, our God, with a joyful heart, singing loud praises and drinking deeply from the Word.
· And, finally, stay focused on Jesus’ Great Commission and our mission to go and make disciples who transform the world.
If we embrace this covenant for holy conferencing, I believe this 159th session of the Minnesota Annual Conference will be for us the means of grace John Wesley intended and a season of unleashing new life. May it be so!
Bishop Bruce R. Ough is resident bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church