The best thing that happened at Annual Conference this year was my reappointment to Campbell United Methodist Church to begin my eighth year as the lead pastor here. I’m so happy to serve as pastor in a congregation that really gets it when it comes to following Jesus. And of course, one that knows how to clap on 2 and 4.
The most important thing I learned at Annual Conference was that knowing someone really well does not in any way mean that you will see something the same way. Some dear friends whom I know really really well see the church camping situation really really differently than I do. Like, befuddlingly differently. And yet they remain dear friends. I think that's probably a function of grace.
The worst thing that happened at Annual Conference was decided by 31 votes (actually 16). We decided, following Robert’s Rules, by a vote of 460 - 429 to NOT sell Wilderness Retreat and Development Center for $1 to an Association that wants to keep it open and run it as a church camp and retreat center for the foreseeable future. Here’s where we get into the whole “seeing things differently” bit; this is how I see it:
The Missouri Conference owns four camp properties. On Saturday, a majority (by a 667 - 425 vote) decided to go ahead and sell them instead of waiting 2 years. Now, there is a group of committed, faithful United Methodists within the conference who wants to assume responsibility for one of the properties. This subgroup of the Conference asked the body as a whole essentially this question: Okay, so you guys don’t want to own this place any more. Can we have it?
Or as one of our youth members said so graciously from the floor, “I believe we should give the camp sites to the people who want them. And that's all I have to say.”
And that’s where the 31 votes (actually 16) comes in. 429 of us said “YES, let’s compromise here. Neither side thinks this is the best solution, but it would work.” And 460 of us said, “No. We want to sell Wilderness and use the money to fund other ministries.” I keep thinking, if just 16 people of those 460 had wanted to compromise instead of sell, the WRDC Association would be making plans today for opening the camp back up.
(That leads, by the way, to the second most important thing I learned at Annual Conference this year. Following Robert’s Rules of Order is a terrible and graceless way to make decisions in the church.)
I am still hopeful, though. I am hopeful because there’s another Association in our Conference called the Jo-Ota Methodist Association, who are highly organized and skillfully prepared. They asked the Conference if they could buy Jo-Ota for $120,003 (I think - someone correct me if I’m wrong). In seven annual payments, the Jo-Ota Association will pay the Conference $1 year one, $1 year two, $1 year three, and then $30,000 for each of the next 4 years to purchase Camp Jo-Ota. And the Conference said a clear and decisive “YES” to this proposal. We didn’t even have to count votes on that one.
And so now the sale of the Wilderness property will be decided by the Conference Trustees, and I see no reason the Wilderness Foundation could not propose a plan, learning as much as possible from Jo-Ota’s, for the purchase of the Wilderness Retreat and Development Center. It would then be up to the Conference Trustees to decide if they would show grace and offer a compromise, honor the narrowly divided minority voice of the Conference, and perhaps model the “permission-giving” attitude that comprises Chapter Five of the book “Just Say Yes!” by Bishop Robert Schnase.
I truly hope they do. I would love for more and more young people to be able to encounter God’s grace there in that sacred place. You see, I voted to give Wilderness to the Association because I know it’s not about my preference. It’s about the mission of the church to make disciples who are changing the world for God’s sake. The mission happens most effectively when our connection is equipped with the resources necessary to make it possible. And I believe with all my heart that Camping/Retreat facilities in natural settings are some of the most important resources by which our mission happens.
(To my knowledge, there are not similar Associations forming around Camp Galilee or Blue Mountain. That may change, so we’ll just have to see what happens.)
The most exciting thing that happened to me at Annual Conference was my election to serve as a delegate to Jurisdictional Conference and as the first alternate delegate to General Conference. I went to Jurisdictional Conference four years ago and really enjoyed it. This time around, the Jurisdiction will be electing a Bishop who may very well be assigned here in Missouri, so our work will have a bit of added importance.
And I am very eager to be a part of General Conference this year for the first time. As the first alternate, I’ll be a part of the delegation and have a chance to absorb everything that’s happening. Although I won’t sit on the floor, I will be there for the whole event and learn all there is to learn. I’d love to be an actual delegate - maybe sometime in the future. In the meantime, I’ll be there to learn as much as possible about how that gathering works.
The most fun thing that happened to me at Annual Conference was winning the door prize in one of the workshops I attended. I got a Kansas City Royals AL Champion pennant to hang in my office! Woo hoo! Okay, so I didn’t really “win” it; Jen used it for an illustration and she didn’t want to keep it and she knows I love the Royals so she gave it to me. But still.
The most meaningful moment of Annual Conference was helping to lead worship alongside my son Wesley on Sunday morning. As a part of the Memorial Service, he placed a flower on the table as my Grandmother Twila Stowe Bryan was remembered, and I rang the bell in her honor. My wife, my daughter and younger son, my Dad, and my brother were in the congregation right in front of us as we once more celebrated a life that was lived in love and grace.
And finally, my favorite part of Annual Conference, as it is every year, is being together with friends and colleagues in ministry. I am a member of the Conference, not of a congregation. That means the Annual Conference is my church. And it definitely felt that way to me. Hugs, smiles, laughs, handshakes, tears, conversations both deep and trivial, reconnecting with long-time friends and making new ones … I am happy to be in connection with the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church.
There are dozens of other experiences I could lift up from #moac15. It was a very good weekend overall.
Two specific moments kind of encapsulate the weekend for me.
On Saturday, after we had voted to sell our camp properties, I embraced my friend Jon Spalding, and we both wept together. Jon is on the Camping Board, among those who was proposing to sell the properties, and my good friend.
On Sunday, after we had voted not to sell Wilderness to the Association, I embraced my friend Bo Tucker, and we both wept together. Bo was on staff at Wilderness, among those who was fighting to save the property, and my good friend.
Both hugs happened in almost the same spot. As I reflect on the weekend, I keep coming back to those two hugs, those two tearful embraces. I haven’t really figured out exactly what they mean, but I know that each one filled my heart to overflowing.
I don’t know for sure, but it may have been grace.
I don’t know for sure, but it may have been grace.