Saturday, July 19, 2008

jurisdictional conference: final thoughts

The Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference has come and gone. We elected an excellent person as a bishop, Paul Leeland, and he will serve in Alabama-West Florida, a fine annual conference. Our annual conference, Western North Carolina, will receive Larry Goodpaster. I (and everyone with whom I have spoken) could not be happier.

The SEJ conference really focuses on these two tasks, the election and assignment of bishops. There is also the election of persons to general boards and agencies (I will serve a second four year term on the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry), and some business related to the ministries of the southeast region. In each case these are "shrinking pies": with the growth of the global church, there are fewer roles for folks in the U.S. (see my blogging after General Conference in May), and most annual conferences are doing youth ministry at a fairly high level of sophistication (for example, Floridians are not motivated to drive many hundreds of miles to have high quality youth events). And so we spent some time dividing up all of this---as I said in Fort Worth, the subtext of most of the deliberation is "ourselves in relation to each other".

When the proceedings got too tedious, I began reading a work by Bartholomew, the ecumenical patriarch of Orthodoxy (he is the spiritual leader of 200 million orthodox Christians, and is often referred to as the "Green Patriarch"). I commend his work Encountering The Mystery, and spending some time with it helped me to put some of the conference in perspective.

I did enjoy seeing many friends from other conferences, most of whom I rarely have the opportunity to encounter---Charles Smith, Paul Stallsworth and Carl Frazier of North Carolina, Karl Stegall of Alabama West Florida, John Culp, Carolyn Briscoe, James Salley and Smoke Kanipe of South Carolina, Randy Cooper ( a candidate for the episcopacy) from Memphis, Wiley Stephens, David Jones and Ed Tomlinson from North Ga, Hal Brady from South Ga, Jim Harnish of Florida, Clarence Smith and Beth Downs of Virginia. I also came to love the people from our own delegation, having shared very close quarters over many hours with them in Texas and at Lake Junaluska. It was good to chat briefly with a few of the bishops (Tim Whitaker about orthodox theology, Ray Chamberlain about a church he had started in Lynchburg, Va, and Jack Meadors, about the memorial service for his wife four years ago). I did not get to talk with Will Willimon, which was too bad, although he led us pleasantly through a portion of the business. We had another retirement party for our bishop (Lawrence McCleskey). A couple of folks told me they were regular readers of this blog (thank you!).

This conference was shaped by a series of teaching sessions related to the United Methodist way. At their best, they reminded us of important characteristics of our tradition (here Randy Maddox stands out); at less helpful times, they seemed like lectures already prepared for divinity school classroom settings, with little flexibility to adapt to the circumstances or the audience (thus how does a presenter condense a lecture from an hour to forty minutes, and thus improve it?). And yet, all in all, the conference was improved by the teaching sessions, even if they did take some of the time usually devoted to conferencing between delegates. Learning is a good thing.

All things culminated in a remarkable concert of music by a group of youth from the Virginia Conference, followed by more music from the Lake Junaluska Singers (to be honest, and imho, a little of their music goes a long way for me; forgive me for saying that). Then all the bishops came out on stage with their spouses. Given the luck of the draw, the WNC delegation sat right in front, so I had a great view (as opposed to the last two general conferences in which our delegation was seated in the adjacent county). All of the bishops were assigned. Larry Goodpaster is coming our way, and I think this will be a great time for the church of Jesus Christ, and especially the people called Methodists, in western North Carolina.

And now, I am happy to be back home, and look forward tomorrow to worshipping GOD tomorrow with the people of Providence UMC in Charlotte. If you are in the neighborhood, join us at 8:30 or 11:00.


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