Annual Conference 2016

It felt a little different this year.  Annual Conference took place last week at Lake Junaluska where United Methodist clergy and lay leaders from across Western North Carolina gathered to do some “holy conferencing” as is our tradition.  This year was different for me.  Partly because I am back in the local church from serving in an administrative

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The cross at Lake Junaluska

position on the Cabinet and I had far less responsibleness than I have had the past several years.  Partly because I was staying in a very different location on the lake and was out of my typical routine. (Let’s just say that I hit 10,000 steps by 10:00 AM twice last week!)  Partly because we spent a great deal of time saying goodbye to our Bishop who will be retiring in a couple of months so no new initiatives were unveiled or new challenges issued.  We have to wait for the next person to point a new direction.  So it was low key.  And yet, some important things still took place.

Here are my take aways from having 3000 United Methodists gathered together.

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Colleagues!

-We do love to sing and worship!  It’s the best part of Annual Conference.  The preaching is always excellent.  The altar and worship space always looks awesome.  The diversity of worship leaders is Kingdom-like.  But the music is so powerful and everyone sings their heart out.  Beautiful to witness.

-Saying goodbye is not easy.  Personally, Bishop Goodpaster has played a significant role in my life in the last 6 years.  My last 3 appointments were made by him and showed a great deal of confidence and trust in my gifts and abilities.  He took risks on me and I do not take that lightly.  I am grateful for the opportunities I have experienced learning from him and because of him.  I pray for a meaningful retirement and

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You never know where “Flat Jesus” might show up – like at Bishop G’s retirement party!

discovery of the next chapter of his life.  And I embrace the change that is coming as our top leader changes later in September.

-We can do more together than we ever can apart.  I am always reminded that in our United Methodist world we are far more effective when we work together than any one church is on their own.  When we come together with our people, our dollars, and our spirits, we can accomplish amazing things.  Missionally we have people working to solve hunger and poverty issues all over Western North Carolina.  We have churches with relationships in over 500 schools in North Carolina.  We have the capacity to make a significant impact on this state if we work together.

-It’s good to see old friends.  There is value in simply having time to catch up with colleagues in ministry or parishioners from former churches that I have served.  To be able to hear how things are going in ministry in other places.  To share ideas with one another.

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Centenary’s Fabulous Delegation

To pray for and encourage one another.  To hear exciting news that is happening in other communities.  To be reminded we are not in this work alone.

I’m thankful for my United Methodist denomination.  We have a lot to figure out at a national level, and it could be some of the most challenging years we have faced as a denomination since Civil War times.  But I believe in our Wesleyan roots and that we will find a way to strike a balance between our ever contrasting sides of personal piety and social gospel.  Come Holy Spirit, balance us!

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

 

Love Wins

Here we go again. I am packing and leaving to head to Lake Junaluska for Annual Conference, a gathering of United Methodists from the Western part of North Carolina.  As I prepare to head up the mountain I am struck by the timing of life events.   Normally my memory is not this historically accurate but because of this annual event in my life- I remember very well. One year ago we were trying to make sense of a shooting in a church in Charleston where 9 people were killed during a prayer service.  The shooter’s motivation was around race issues and of course, hate.

635709713700553550-781956237_UnknownToday, we find ourselves in the aftermath of the largest mass shooting in America to date, 50 people were shot in Orlando in a gay night club.  We are still trying to understand motive but there is a common denominator- issues around LGBT and hate.  The fact that the shooter was Muslim does not seem to be a contributing factor although plenty will argue that point.  We’ll have to wait and see but homophobia and mental instability appear to be the primary contributing factors.

Those who died over the weekend were between the age of 20 and 50 with most of those persons being in their 20’s and 30’s.  Forty-nine people.  Violently shot dead by a stranger.  With an automatic rifle.  Motivated by generalized hate of a particular group of people.

And I am sick and tired of this broken record.  We know the routine.  We watch the news and the newsfeeds in shock and deep sadness or anger.  And then after a few days we go back to business as usual.  Maybe with a slightly heightened sense of safety or concern.  For a while.  Then we forget until the next event happens.  We talk about it.  We argue about it.  But we do nothing significant about it.

When will we learn that whatever we are doing isn’t working?  I do not have solutions.  But I do have a conviction.  It’s age old.  Taught by a Master.  Tried and tested and fairly effective when utilized.  But apparently tough for human nature to fully embrace.  But it’s not new.

Love wins.   Hate loses.  I may not be able to change gun laws.  I may not be able to eradicate extreme Christian factions or extreme Muslim factions that wreak havoc in our world.  I may not be able to win political arguments with those who disagree with me.  But I can certainly love.  And I can expect those around me to love as well.  I can name it.  I can model it.  I can call out hatred in my midst.  I can make it clear that it’s not ok around me.  I can start shaping a real norm about love wins.  A functioning ethic of love.

I will not let it be ok for people to villainize all Muslims for the perspective of an evil faction.  I will name the difference.  I will not let it be ok to denigrate a person because their skin color is darker than mine.  I will name the racism or bigotry.  I will not let it be ok to attack or belittle people from the LGBT community because they understand their sexuality differently from me.  I will name the intolerance and attempt to point to another way.

To choose the path of love does not mean you have to agree or even understand the other.  But it means you refuse to let hate be the defacto reaction to that which you do not agree with.  I refuse to feel like there is nothing I can do anymore.  Because the sad reality is, there is plenty of hate around me.  Or that which, with a little more nurturing, could turn into hate.  I choose love.  In an active way.  And it’s not about politics.  It’s not about economics.  It’s not about power.  It’s about my faith.  I choose Jesus therefore I choose love.  Actively.  Positively.  Verbally.  Physically.  Faithfully.  I believe with every fiber of my being, love wins.

1 John 4:17-19 New Living Translation (NLT)

And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.  Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.  We love each other because he loved us first.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth