“Holy Conferencing is Biblical and Wesleyan. Since the days of John Wesley, we have been gathering in “conference” as a time set aside to testify, raise questions, discuss, consult, clarify, set direction, and account for the ministry of God among the churches and the people called Methodist.” —Bishop Larry Goodpaster, in the program booklet for the 2012 Western North Carolina Annual Conference
Though I usually try to answer questions about worship here, this month I’d like to offer some information for those who are not familiar with the United Methodist tradition of “Holy Conferencing”. Last month our congregation was asked to pray for the General Conference that met in Tampa, Florida, and we should also be praying for our own Western North Carolina Conference’s Annual Conference that will meet at Lake Junaluska June 20-24.
Whereas General Conference, a global gathering of clergy and lay delegates, meets only every four years, Annual Conference, as the name suggests, is held once a year. This is much like our own Charge Conference, held each fall, in which the leaders, budget, and plans/focus for the next year are approved—or not. It is that “or not” part that can sometimes turn any conference into a lively and potentially contentious event. It is also one of the reasons that prayer for such an event becomes important, because you know from our own congregation how widely personalities, visions and ideas of what seems best can differ.
With this in mind, you can understand why Bishop Goodpaster, who presides over Conference, offers guidelines for the event. These include:
- We will listen to one another in a spirit of Christian love. As conversations and discussion are held, we will remember to be active listeners and responders.
- We will respect one another as members together in the Body of Christ, even if we disagree with an opinion or statement. We are not trying to win arguments but rather in sharing perspectives we are seeking God’s direction in our deliberations.
- We will be careful and attentive in defining terms and will avoid needless use of inflammatory words or vague generalizations.
- We will not cheer, applaud, groan or grumble while others are speaking, nor at the conclusion of a statement from a brother or sister. Conference is not a political convention or staged theater.
- We will conduct ourselves at all times in the Spirit of Jesus the Christ, and will seek the Way of Jesus in what we do and how we do it.
- We will be ready at appropriate times to enter into a time of prayer which may involve silence, centering and/or verbal prayers.
These guidelines seem to me to also be good standards for what my husband often describes as “Applied Christianity”, or how to be a Christian out in the world. Even though these were recommended for “Holy Conferencing”, if we use these as a blueprint for interacting with everyone, inside and outside the church, we will come closer to achieving our aspirations to be true disciples of Jesus.
~ Susan H.