Grace and Peace to you from Jesus Christ.
The work of the 52nd Session of the West Ohio Annual Conference is now complete. I want to thank all of those who made it possible for this to go as well as it did. Our staff, volunteers and contractors worked tirelessly and performed at a high level over a large swatch of time to create the greatest likelihood for things to go well. And that they did. Thanks be to God. You who are the members of the Annual Conference merit gratitude as well for participating and for navigating conferencing virtually. On the conference website and through NewsNet our Office of Communications has provided you with a comprehensive set of resources about the Annual Conference Session.
Before, during and after Annual Conference I had a growing yearning for us to be together in person for a variety of reasons. Not the least of these is the need for capacity for a different kind of conversation than currently seems possible in a virtual conference. Though I am convinced we have yet to go as deep as is possible using resources like Zoom.
That said let me reiterate that I expect that Annual Conference 2022 to include significant physical togetherness. What role technology will need to play as a partner is yet to be determined. A lot depends on our continued progress with the management of COVID and its variants. I so look forward to being with you. By grace and mercy and the discipline of common sense, many of our paths will start to cross more and more in pursuit of the mission.
I also want to note that the where and how of conferencing matter. But neither a virtual nor embodied Annual Conference can guarantee effective conferencing. If we don’t have a made-up mind to let our conferencing be a sign of God’s reign and love, the “technology” of meeting is irrelevant. We are the determiners of the content and the quality of our conversations. Technology, location etc. will not and cannot drive missional focus. For example, the nostalgia of conferencing at Lakeside is wholly inadequate to help us talk about the right things and to treat one another always conscious that the very image of God is stamped on every brow.
On June 1 I said the following to you: “I have been thinking more and more about how we conference. I have had several conversation partners in my own reflections. In every case I have been reminded that in our tradition conferencing has been understood as a means of grace. Dr. David Field in his book 'Bid Our Jarring Conflicts Cease, A Wesleyan Theology and Praxis of Church Unity', reminds us that conferencing is not just about polity but about identity. As he stirs the pot about identity he probes our understanding of holiness which according to John Wesley is love. Field asks this question of us: “how can we engage each other in a way that expresses love and helps us to become more loving?” Dear ones, that will always be the question that can only be answered by our behavior whether we are in conference or elsewhere. Whether we are in church, so to speak, or in the world.”
I hope across this next year we will find meaningful ways to systemically reflect on not just the when and where of meeting but, the “who are we when we meet”. In the service of putting more grist into the mill, click here to be directed to a sermon I preached for the North Texas Annual Conference this year (recorded at Scioto Ridge UMC, Hilliard Ohio) entitled “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”
† Bishop Gregory V. Palmer