>Day 1 – Thursday

Thursday, June 25 marked the beginning of the first ever meeting of the Indiana Annual Conference. In previous years, North Indiana and South Indiana existed as different conferences, but on October 4th of last year, they officially became one conference. This was a pretty exciting time, and a time that is challenging all of us to rethink how we do ministry.
The conference opened with three teaching sessions led by Adam Hamilton, the pastor of Church of the Resurrection near Kansas City, Kansas. I’ll go into more detail about the teaching sessions on a later post, but suffice to say, it was some good stuff. I do consider myself to be conservative theologically; however, I understand the importance of being a moderate when it comes to theological discussions. I’m not one to condemn those with whom I don’t agree. I think responsible, respectful and logical dialogue is crucial. There will always be differences between people. That is how we grow. I respect Hamilton for leading the way in opening up the conversations between “both sides of the aisle,” and taking the best from both points of view.
Afterwards, we had our initial plenary session. Nothing terribly exciting to talk about there. This did set the tone, however, for what would end up being the majority of the discussions during conference – namely, the budget initial report. The most contentious discussions during the course of Annual Conference revolved around insurance, specifically for retired clergy and spouses, and connectional ministries, primarily campus ministries. Following a mildly entertaining laity report, we had a limited amount of time to get dinner and head over to Union Chapel UMC for the clergy session.
Clergy session was all right. There were a number of people presented for commissioning and ordination, as well as the retirees for this annual conference. Someone wondered aloud in my direction, “Why are we ordaining people in their 60’s?” And as I looked at the crowd of people, there were very few that were under the age of 40. One of the things that we need to do a better job with, as clergy, is helping people answer their call to ministry at a young age. So many times, I’ve heard of second-career people entering into ministry much later in life because they ignored their call to ministry at a younger age.
Clergy session wasn’t terribly exciting for me, apart from knowing a few of the people being commissioned or ordained, because as a provisional member, I am not allowed to vote (although, by this point, it’s pretty much a rubber stamp on what has already been decided). It also dawned on me as I was sitting in the session that had I gotten through certification on time and had I finished seminary in 3 years instead of 4, I would be a part of this year’s ordination class. Interesting how it all works out sometimes, isn’t it? Thus ended Day 1.
Day 2 – Friday
Friday began with a Bible study led by David Bell. The focus was on stewardship, and it was pretty good. I may put up the highlights in a later post. We then had our second plenary (business) session, focusing primarily on the Transition Team report (which went 35 minutes over its alloted time) and discussion revolving around Connectional Ministries.
Here’s the big deal with Connectional Ministries. Apparently, about a month ago, those representing connectional ministries throughout the state were told that the majority of the money that they received from the conference would be drastically reduced. At the Pre-conference briefing, we were told that this is in part due to budgetary concerns, but also because the local church gives at a rate 10 times more than the conference. The short notice, alongside the massive cuts, has caused quite a bit of consternation around the conference – understandably so.
However, here are my thoughts on the issue. Local churches need to take on the responsibility of maintaining these ministries. If it isn’t something that the local churches support, why should the conference? Hear me out on this. I care about campus ministry. I think it is incredibly important as a follow-up to what local churches are doing in their ministry to youth. However, we cannot simply throw some money at campus ministries and wash our hands of young Christians.
The local churches need to support it. With the new conference, there is a lot of talk about grassroots and doing ministry from the “bottom” of the system up. It has to start with the local churches. If we are trying to do ministry from the bottom up, then why are we trying to mandate funding from the top down? It doesn’t make any sense. And here’s the kicker – Indiana is on a tithing model for conference giving, not apportionments. We give 10% of what is given on Sunday morning to the conference. If every church in the conference paid 100% of their 10% tithe, we would have $3 million more in the budget for 2010. All of the arguments and discussions that have occurred in the past month and a half would be a moot point because the money is there.
Okay, back to the review. I attended the Asbury Seminary lunch out at Union Chapel. It was great. In the past years, the Asbury lunch has always been a deli sandwich box lunch. This time, a local Italian restaurant catered, and it was delicious. Dr. Arnold was the speaker, and he updated us on the many things that are going on at Asbury, and it seems like things are going great there right now.
I spent the afternoon session watching the webcast because we got back from the Asbury lunch a little late, and I needed to rest a little. Most of the time was spent discussing insurance for retired clergy and spouses. There was a brief break in that discussion to talk about the 32 proposed Constitutional Amendments. I thought that this was going to be a long, drawn-out discussion as well, but I think the whole thing lasted maybe half an hour. The results were not released, so I don’t have much to report on those. All in all, it seemed like a pretty tame discussion compared to the previous discussions on the day.
I have to say that I was pretty disappointed with dinner. I went to the Confessing Movement dinner. The food itself was wonderful; however, I had to eat and rush out of there pretty quick. I was supposed to help serve communion at the memorial service, and for some inexplicable reason, they started the dinner about half an hour late. By the time I made it through the buffet line (as my table was the last to go), I had all of 7 minutes to eat and get back to the auditorium. It was pretty frustrating to pay $16.50 for a dinner that I didn’t even have time to enjoy.
Following the memorial service, there was a young clergy gathering at Scotty’s Brewhouse. It was a good time. Katie and I got to meet a few people and just hang out with some other young clergy in our conference. I think, all in all, about 30 people came by for this gathering.
Day 3 & 4 – Saturday and Sunday
Saturday morning started off with another Bible study by David Bell. We had our final vote on the budget, which brought up more discussion on connectional ministries and insurance. The nominating committee reported on those who are geared up to serve in the new conference, and then we were dismissed for an afternoon of ministry and outreach.
Sunday was the closing of annual conference with the Celebration of Ministry service, during which a whole new class was commissioned, another one was ordained, and another one was seen off to retirement.
I know this has been a rather long post. But that is the basic summary of the first ever meeting of the Indiana Annual Conference, with a bit of commentary along the way. All in all, it was a good conference.