Over 1,400 United Methodists from across South Georgia gathered in Columbus, Georgia for the 2009 Annual Conference June 7-10. It was a great time of celebration and worship as Bishop James King led his first conference in South Georgia.
The opening clergy session on Sunday night is always a contradiction in terms. While everyone is excited to see each other, the actual report of the Board of Ordained Ministry (the main business item) is always a yawner. I ask myself, “All of these preachers have a copy of this 20 page report and they are all writing down the edits and typos. I wonder how many of them will actually keep these reports more than 24 hours?” I’ve never been able to figure that out. As a good friend said, “It gives us something to do.” Important work is not always enjoyable.
Retired ministers were given the opportunity to share a 3-5 minute speech after the clergy session on Sunday. My friend and mentor, Mike McAfee, was the class act – 1 minute and 15 seconds of pure gratitude and selflessness. If every retired minister followed his lead, people would actually look forward to the retiree speeches. Unfortunately, others spoke for 15 minutes about everything, including pee (yes, urine). Retiree videos are the way to go. Synthesize everyone’s comments down to the best highlights – they save a few of the preachers from themselves. The almost two hour retiree speech session caused the ordination rehearsal to finish at 11:00 p.m. – unfortunate for those who had to practice.
Monday morning, Bishop King opened conference and preached a great sermon in a white robe. Thank you Bishop King for breaking the “black robe mandate” in South Georgia – I hope we’ll see more diversity reflected in our vestments under his leadership. Let’s see some albs, colored robes, cassocks, etc. Spice it up a little – what are we, Presbyterians? It was a great sermon Bishop and special thanks on your choice of dress.
Tuesday’s Day of Service was another great success. Methodists spread out across Columbus to help those around us. Unfortunately, it looks like South Georgia will not continue the Day of Service in Tifton, Georgia –not enough places to serve. I guess we’ll fill that spot with retiree speeches.
I would close with the importance of the Constitutional Amendments, which one would think would have been the high point of conference. Alas, no. The “rub of the green” (as we say in golf), came from a resolution regarding pastors owning their own furniture. Thirty minutes of debate later and we had a divided house. Separated by only 11 votes, the conference voted to re-establish the older system of pastors not owning any furniture. It is a sad day to see the conference so divided on such a non-essential issue.
What shocks and amazes me is that we couldn’t bring some sort of compromise to the floor of the conference. Why are leaders of stature and good mind unable or unwilling to bring a compromise to the floor? People are already percolating about the “resolution-to-change-the-resolution-that-changed-the-resolution” for next year. We need to stop the madness. There are more important things that need our focus and our energy. Our denomination is in decline. People need to know Christ. And the leading, most fervent discussion at our conference is about furniture? Shame on us that we can’t lead change better than that. We all share some blame on this one.