This week I’ve spent several hours working with various clergy, laity, and conference staff to finalize plans for Annual Conference. I’m delighted with the focus, the theme, and the energy, and I look forward with eager anticipation to our time together in Springfield. The theme is “Extravagant Generosity: Practicing the Grace of Giving,” and we will focus our worship, preaching, learning times, and workshops on more deeply understanding the generosity of God and reflecting on how God uses our generosity to reconfigure our interior lives.
Scott Chrostek, pastor of Resurrection Downtown in Kansas City will preach at our opening worship service on Friday, and then we move into the first business session of the Conference. Following our afternoon Lay and Clergy Sessions, we’ll reconvene to receive the Bishop’s Message about our work and ministry together. This will include presentations by Bob Farr and Karen Hayden, our Directors of Congregational Excellence and Pastoral Excellence. Friday evening we’ll enjoy dinner together, sharing conversations about generosity and celebrating a modern adaptation of the early Wesleyan Love Feast. The evening will be hosted and led by Lynn Dyke, pastor at Kimberling City and Chair of our Council on Finance and Administration.
We’re privileged to have Elijah Stansell as our guest speaker on Saturday morning for the Bishop’s Learning Time. Rev. Stansell serves as Treasurer for the Texas Conference and is well-known for his excellent preaching and teaching related to stewardship and generosity. We continue with business sessions until we celebrate our Service of Retirement and Commissioning, during which we recognize those who finish their active years of clergy service as well as those just beginning their journeys of ministry.
A highlight of Conference is the workshops led by lay and clergy leaders from our own conference as well as special guests. Guest leaders include Rev. Elijah Stansell, Treasurer of the Texas Conference; Jennifer Tyler, co-author of Extravagant Generosity, the new stewardship program for churches; David McCaskill of the Texas Methodist Foundation to discuss safe debt limits for churches; and Rita Hays, author of Five Practices for Children to discuss teaching generosity to children. Among our own leaders, we look forward to presentations by Margie Briggs, Royal Speidel, Karen Hayden, David Atkins, Bob Farr, Lynn Dyke, Kendall Waller, Carol Kreamer, Amy Gearhart, Jai Vaughn, Larry Fagan, Chris Dumas, Robyn Miller, Ron Watts, Matt Miofsky, Deborah LeMoine, Rob Mehner, Mark Stattler, and Sherry Habben on a diverse range of topics including stewardship in small churches, overhauling congregations, maintaining momentum for growth, Mozambique, using new technology for giving, discipleship systems, and using the Stewardship Toolbox for teaching and promoting generosity.
Saturday evening, we’ll ordain a great class of new elders and deacons. Our “preaching” for the service will include prayers of blessing by laity and clergy of our conference. I’ll lead Sunday morning’s teaching session on Extravagant Generosity. Join us for the year’s largest Sunday School class! And then we’ll celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion together with Kendall Waller preaching. Also as this service, we’ll remember pastors and spouses who have passed since last annual conference. Sunday afternoon, we continue our business sessions, and in the evening we’ll conduct business while also receiving gifts of music and witness focused on people’s journeys to generosity. Monday morning, I’ll lead the Learning Time, and we’ll conclude our business by noon.
This quick review catches only a fraction of the ministries, worship experiences, and learning opportunities at conference. And much of the deep spiritual benefit of gathering comes from the side conversations, lunches with friends, and mutual prayers that happen among acquaintances as we renew our spirits for our common mission.
Throughout our sessions this year, we’ll pause as frequently as necessary to hold ballots for the election of lay and clergy members to General and Jurisdictional Conferences. This represents an important and positive opportunity to shape the United Methodist Church. I hope and pray that we maintain the unity and missional focus of our conference during the election process. I invite you to pray with me for an election experience that is fair, thoughtful, prayerful, civil, and focused on the mission of the church. Thinking alike is not mandatory for leadership in the church, but living as one in the body of Christ is essential. The process should demonstrate respect for all persons and proceed with dignity. As Paul writes, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor….If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all….” (Romans 12)
Each year I’ve felt our conference has become more alive with a sense of purpose and our people have become more engaged with learning together, praying together, and working together. I pray this Annual Conference continues this rich tradition, and I look forward to our time together with eager anticipation. It will be good to be together once more as the body of Christ called United Methodists in Missouri.
Yours in Christ,