If you attended a United Methodist Conference in May, you participated in discussions about change, you voted on leadership, and were updated on social justice activities. You return home and—while still dizzy with information overload—you’re immediately asked, “What happened at Conference?” How do you answer?
Todd Salzwedel, senior pastor at St. Stephen’s UMC [Albuquerque, N.M.], didn’t respond with a play-by-play of the voting session, or a recap of the decisions that were reached; he talked about family.
“Since geography plays such a role in our conference, it is often at Annual Conference that we get to reconnect and share with one another . . . like family spread out across the country, gathering for a family reunion once a year,” says Salzwedel, whose church is in the New Mexico Conference. “It’s always so amazing to hear how God is at work in the varied and unique corners of our conference,” he continues. “And while we may be small in numbers, the joy and desire to big in impact is abundantly evident in the stories and experiences we all share with one another.”
Rev. Taud Boatman, associate pastor, (First United Methodist Church, Owasso, Okla.), ordained elder, and member in full connection with the Oklahoma Annual Conference, experienced a ceremonial closure that gave his conference hope. “During the last year, our Annual Conference has gone through the process of re-districting and re-aligning our resources so as to better meet the needs of the people and communities we serve,” he explains. “Towards the end of our Conference gathering time this year, we celebrated a service of disbanding our old districts—while giving life and birth to our new districts.” According to Rev. Boatman, acknowledging this transition “was a very emotionally charged and worshipful moment . . . I came away with a renewed sense of purpose and mission. Our hearts and our spirits are to be set on fire for service and witness.”
Lynne Campbell, pastor at Londonderry UMC [Londonderry, N.H.], attends the New England Conference. Like Salzwedel, when she spoke about her Conference takeaways, she spoke of the family within the body of Christ, summing it up in a small, yet powerful anecdote. “It happened during lunch outdoors,” she recalls. “A woman tripped on an uneven brick walkway and fell forward, obviously injuring her shoulder. Immediately, the body of Christ sprung into loving, effective action.
“Someone alerted the hotel staff to call an ambulance. Someone else rolled a tote bag into a makeshift pillow for her head. Another gathered her things. Her son and daughter-in-law rushed to her side with words of comfort. Others offered silent prayer. Someone went back into the lunch line for water.
“Her two young grandchildren were also present, wide-eyed and confused. Someone brought them snacks and later, when the EMTS arrived, two clergywomen took the children for a walk so they wouldn’t be frightened if their grandmother cried out in pain at being lifted onto the gurney. The body of Christ responded to this woman’s immediate need, and the needs of her family, with prayer, presence, and compassionate action.
“Back in session, the entire body prayed for her and rejoiced to hear later that evening, that she would be released from the hospital without needing surgery. It was this moment in the midst of annual conference ‘business-as-usual,’ that touched my heart and allowed me to see God in work within and among us—wherever we are, and whenever we gather as the body of Christ.”
What about you? Share your conference “family reunion” stories with us. Where did you witness loving, effective action? How do you answer the question: What happened at Conference?
Judy Bumgarner is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee. She also works at Brentwood United Methodist Church in the church’s Caring Ministry.