What are your expectations of Annual Conference?

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My first AME Annual Conference will be in August. Needless to say I am excited and counting the day. I will get to meet Bishop John Bryant and Dr. Cecilia Bryant our Episcopal Supervisor. My experience of Annual Conferences have come from being United Methodist and one of the things I love was meeting new people. Here's my question when you go to Annual Conference do you have expectations of what you would like to see happen in your conference?

-- Anonymous, April 26, 2001


Hello. :-)

I am enclosing below a previous article I wrote in response to a question aboutt he Annual Conference. In addition to that, my expectations focus on hearing the exciting news of gospel witness throughout the conference, and hearing how are new young ministers are adapting to the challenge and work of ministry.

Now here's the previous article. Hope it helps.

Ah, the Annual Conference. If ever there was a keystone of Methodism, this is it.

For some the Annual Conference begins with that last good-bye the Sunday before. We sometimes forget that a hallmark of Methodism is itineracy, and we must therefore be prepared always for change. For the pastor, the change may be either satisfying - a recognition of work completed, a promotion - or gut-wrenching, as when you feel you have so much more to do at Charge A. For the congregation, similar senses may abound, especially the sense of urgency when a leadership situation needs to be addressed, or expectancy when a current pastor is about to retire or move on, or anxiety if you really want your old pastor back.

The fellowship begins with the Missionary Day. Typically resplendent in white, the Missionary Society gathers for worship, encouragement, workshops, acknowledgement of the past year's accomplishments, and the charge for the coming year from the Episcopal Supervisor.

The organization and opening of the conference beckons for nearly a year. African Methodism hearkens back to its episcopal roots as the pulpiteers for the day lead a majestic procession of clerics. Spangled in stoles of red, green, kinte, black, with the presiding elder in white robe trimmed in blue, and capped by the Bishop, trailing in purple, these servants of God Most High seem ready for the heavenly choir.

Music is always a delightful element of the Annual Conference. Most conferences that I have attended start off with a strong hymn, such as "Holy, Holy, Holy", "We're Marching to Zion", or "All Hail the Power" as processionals. Following the call to worship is the plaintive exhortation "And Are We Yet Alive?" Too often this hymn is taken for granted, but I am finding it more meaningful each year, for its words ring ever poignant. The Lord has not only spared us for another season, but He has brought us through triumphs, troubles, tribulations, fightings, envyings, and we are Yet Alive!

The Annual Conference's music is presented by either the Host Church or a Conference Choir (or both in some combination). The singers have worked hard to make praise paramount and worship well-supported. After the opening prayer the conference usually hears a rousing anthem. This may draw on our European heritage with numbers from Bach, Beethoven or Mozart, or from contemporary creations such as Smallwood. The anthem sets the musical tone for the week, stating that the Choir is here to serve.

You asked about the fellowship. One of the fellowship times I have observed with amusement and joy is the work of the "sidewalk bishops". Every Annual Conference has one official bishop appointed by the Episcopal Committee, but I have seen "many" outside the church during breaks offering their views of who's going where next. The speculations and ruminations of these "sidewalk bishops" seem to go on all the way up to the last day's "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow."

Another delight at conference is watching the administration of the bishops. Each bishop has a unique style, having served the church on both sides of the "bar". I have been fortunate in my life to observe the workings of several - Hickman, Hildebrand, Cummings, Pruitt, Bryant, Young. All were efficient, kind, knowledgable, and patient. I think you will find Bishop Bryant to be spiritual, insightful, and very willing to teach.

The Annual Conference is also made unique through the hospitality of the Host Church. Here we see the loving people of God carrying on a 200 year tradition of rolling out the red carpet, fixing the most delightful meals, graciously providing transportation, and topping it all off with the knick-knacks and extra thoughts that make each conference a little different from the year before. You will find yourself collecting the first of your Souvenir Journals, which will, over a lifetime, provide a very nice remembrance of the history of the conference and of your participation in African Methodism.

The Closing Service is a moment of tension, anticipation, and New Beginnings. Congregations may bus in members from across the jurisdiction to share in this joint worship service, held on either a Saturday or Sunday. The whole congregation waits with anticipation to hear the Bishop present her/his Annual Conference Closing Sermon. This climactic word serves to energize the pastors as they are sent to their (possibly new) charges. The Bishop will remind us to keep first and foremost the work of the gospel, the mission of the church, and the call of Christ. a good conference will include in its closing a very dynamic resolution. For many years in New England, the Rev. Maxwell's reading of the resolution was as anticipated as any sermon presented.

The culmination of conference is the reading of the Pastoral Appointments. Each bishop does this in a unique way. Some may read the name. Others may start by reading the charge. Bishop Hildebrand used to ask all who thought they were going to get an appointment to come forth and stand together on the stage. It must have been very nerve-wracking for those last two pastors if they were not sure about their future. :-). Congregations cheer the reappointment of beloved pastors, fall silent on disappointing assignments, or hoop and holler at the bishop's surprises. It appears to be a tradition that the host church's appointment is either the last or penultimate one, deferring only to the largest church in the conference. The Bishop caps the reading of the appointments with an immediate call to "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow." As the strains of music fade, another year is completed, and the Cycle of Methodism, the period of itineracy, begins again.

The Annual Conference. It will stir you, challenge you, enlighten you, confuse you, excite you, disappoint you, but ultimately bless you. Enjoy every moment, and treasure every memory.

-- Anonymous, April 26, 2001

We in the New England Conference of the First District held our Annual Conference last week at Bethel Springfield (MA). Our Bishop, Bishop Donald George Kenneth Ming, was unable to attend because of health reasons. Bishop Richard Allen Hilldebrand and Bishop Richard Franklin Norris presided. Both are sons of the First District. I always find the Annual Sermon to be one of the highlights. It is an honor to be asked to give this sermon to the preachers. Also I look forward to the Youth Night for the YPD. The other very awesome, Spiritual service is the Ordination Service. Two of our ministerial staff were ordained Itinarant Elders. It was so wonderful to witness the culmination of years of commited, hard work to come to fruition. Many members of the church made the trip down to Springfield to support and rejoice with the new Elders. Listening to the language of the ordination is always a renewed appreciation for the responsibilties of the clergy, Deacons as well as Elders. The service is always a highlight for me. In one case, a Pastor and his son, also a Pastor, were 2 of the seven Elders to lay hands on his daughter/sister, a very moving moment. Enjoy the Annual Conference, Rev Rogers. It will be a great fellowship to be with all those other Pastors, Brothers and Sisters. I am sure you will returned further encouraged and fired up for Christ all the more.

-- Anonymous, April 26, 2001

I have, just this week, attended the fourth of six Annual Conferences held in my Episcopal District. First, I would simply ditto all that others have said here. I would add, however, that the primary objective of an Annual Conference is accountability. It is a time when we assess what we have done for the building of the Kingdom during the past twelve months, as well as, determine how this might be better accomplished in the future. Since we do this quarterly at the local church level, it usually is quite simple to do at the Annual Conference.

I am truly grateful for this system and find it both humbling and comforting to know that whoever we think we might be--from pastor to pew--we are for ONLY one year at a time. I might also add, Reverend Rogers, that from what I have read in these postings you and your congregation have done quite a remarkable job and will make us proud when your report is read.

-- Anonymous, April 26, 2001

The Annual Conference is always a great time to see all my old friend through out the conference. We share our failures and our accomplishments. The Ole Georgia Annual Conference just finished it conference on April 20th. This was Bishop Cummings third conference in the Sixth District. He called the conference "Our Annual Revival". There always seems to be very good preaching and singing at the conference. I always feel a part of the host church. I try to help out because I know how much work goes into hosting an annual conference. I also like to watch the Presiding Bishop conduct the business sessions. I have watched Bishop Hildebrand, Berden, Talbot, Adams, Ming and Cummings presiding and they all have their own style. The business session sometime get long but the business of the church must be carried out. Hearing the annual report from each church is always enjoyable. I like seeing how the ministry at other churches are doing. The hearing of the reports is always a good time to take notes. The most tense moments are the pastoral appointments. From my understanding of the United Methodist Church the pastor knows in advance of the conference if he will be moved or returned. Many AME pastors do not know until the conference that they are going to be moved or returned. It is sad to see the expression on the delegation faces when their hopes and prayers are not fulfilled. But on the other hand we have shouted out loud with joy when our pastor has been reassigned to our church. I have always enjoyed going to conference despite being on both side of the sad expression and shouts of joy. The coming together as sisters and brothers and as a church is something great. My expectation is always that "God's Will" will be done.

-- Anonymous, April 26, 2001

Bob you are right in the United Methodist Denomination you usually know by April where you are going. There are many benefits in knowing where you are going or staying, especially if you have children. One of the expectations that a lot of us had as United Methodists ministers revolved around social justice issues. We wanted clear guide lines on how to handle issues regarding illegal aliens, housing concerns. etc. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts. And thanks Robert for the vote of confidence, we have done a lot at our church in five months. But it was ALL God! We are just his vessels. Our church has an outreach ministry at one of the nursing homes in our town. I am now chaplain of the facility, and one of the members of our church has taken the position of Assistant Activity Director, so it will be great to share these activities with others and get suggestions.

-- Anonymous, April 26, 2001

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