The second weekend of June about a thousand United Methodists descended on downtown Springfield as we do every year. This is a great weekend full of fun, fellowship, food, and yes the work of the church. The idea of "Holy Conferencing" has been with the Methodist Movement since its founding by John Wesley. So Annual Conference is as Methodist as well… Wesley. This year offered new experiences and new opportunities for engagement. Our lay delegates for Pleasant Grove this year were Nancy and Bob Erickson, and we look forward to their report soon, but for now here are my thoughts.
As always, the worship opportunities that I experienced were awesome, and I am reminded of the gifted speakers and musicians around the conference and the connection. This year's Annual Conference offered me the opportunity to host a workshop for fellow leaders. My topic was Volunteer leadership, and it was an opportunity for me to share with the Missouri Conference the fantastic ministries and volunteer staff we have at Pleasant Grove. My prayer for this time was that it was half as helpful for the participants as it was for me to hear their stories and experiences.
Also new in 2018 was the change to a shorter, three-day format, and I am conflicted about my response to this schedule change. As a former part-time and bi-vocational pastor, I appreciate that they limited the amount to time required to be away from "day jobs" and family. I also understand that for those volunteer delegates that work it is incredibly helpful. However, on the other hand, it did feel "rushed" like we were getting through things and there felt to be a lack of fellowship or connection space created. As I reflect, I would push to keep the shorter format as the practical nature of such things outweighs my comfort and the luxury of more connectional “down time.”
Additionally, the issue on everyone’s minds this year was the topic of human sexuality and the plans from the Commission on the Way Forward that will be presented at the special called session of the General Conference 2019 in St Louis. The Bishop addressed the plans with detail and knowledge that far exceeds my own but suffice to say there is a real conversation happening. If this topic interests you please let me know and I would be happy to connect you to the resources I am reading. The Bishop did encourage clergy and lay people alike not to allow these conversations to distract from the mission of "making disciples for Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World."
On that topic the Missouri Conference Staff put forth some new goals to focus our efforts as Missouri Methodists: (1) New Missional Leaders, (2) New Places for New People, (3) A Pathway Out of Poverty. The first of these goals led to the changing of the Office of Pastoral Excellence to the Office of Leadership Excellence which will no longer serve just Clergy but also will support Lay Leadership throughout the Conference. We will be working through this office and the District Lay Team to offer a Basic Lay Leader course in September (more information is coming).
New Places for New People is not a new goal for the conference and is not new language for us at Pleasant Grove. Since my appointment at PG, we have been discussing how New Places are essential for the growth and sustainability of the church. This push led us to launch PG3 our weekly Sunday Evening Worship Experience as well as some new places to come. I genuinely believe that an eye on New Places for New People will carry Pleasant Grove into its future as a model for rural Methodism and rural ministry in general.
The Pathway Out of Poverty is a huge, and a monumental undertaking that will lead the Missouri Conference into the coming decades. Poverty rates in Missouri have remained above average and poverty rates have been found hand and hand with incarceration, illiteracy and the creation of a cycle that extends for generations. This goal will challenge churches across the conference to build partnerships with schools and other groups to create a path to break this cycle. If you have a vision for how this could look at Pleasant Grove let me know. We currently have some ideas swirling but the more, the merrier. The goals are powerful and are truly the work of Christ in the world, as well as being functional at the local church level. I am inspired that we as Methodists are leading change in our state and across the globe.
These are my thoughts from MOAC18. Please watch social media for the report of our delegates Nancy and Bob Erickson.