As you read this, we will have just concluded the 48th session of the Tennessee Annual Conference. Each year, pastors and lay members from churches all across Middle Tennessee gather to hear reports and dream for the future. This year your lay delegate was John Dickson and your alternate delegate was Jo Dorris Anderson. However, also elected from our congregation to serve as “at-large” lay delegates were Don Ladd and Keith Enders, so our church was very well represented.
I’d be less than truthful if I told you that sitting through long reports was exciting—unless your idea of excitement is watching paint dry. But, there are several very meaningful worship experiences and Bible Studies given by our Bishop or a visiting Bishop or professor. The service of Ordination each year is the high point of the week. The Memorial Service honoring our dead is always powerful. And it is always uplifting to hear of the many good things happening among Methodists in Middle Tennessee. We are starting several new churches in the area in places where new subdivisions and new growth is occurring. Yes, we have some churches in trouble—churches that once upon a time were strong and vital, but now finding themselves in areas of decline and transition—but Methodism is alive and well here.
John Wesley created these yearly conferences (actually at one time they were held quarterly) as a way of us engaging in what he called “Holy Conferencing”. Wesley was convinced that the Body Of Christ was at its best whenever they came together in prayer and love to make decisions about the well-being of the church. Our annual conference continues to gather in that same spirit.
This year, we elected clergy and lay delegates to the General Conference meeting next year for its Quadrennial (every 4 years) Meeting. That gathering will set the tone and direction for Methodism in this country and around the world. Delegates will come from Europe, Africa, Asia, and Central America as well as from around the United States. This election is always the cause of a lot of excitement.
We have all heard that mainstream Christian denominations (Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc.) have entered into a season of decline. That this is true is undeniable. But contrary to the chorus of media who are sounding the death knell, the church is not dying. The church is simply changing—shifting—into what it will be for the foreseeable future. Make no mistake—if we as believers refuse to tell our faith stories and share with people why our lives are better because we believe, then we may very well see ever more decline in our ranks.
What was true at that first Pentecost It is still true today. The Spirit of God moves among us in powerful ways. Lives are transformed. Brokenness is healed. Those who were blind can now see. It remains up to us—as God’s partners—to sew good seed and then watch what God can do with it.
Kristin Clark-Banks is the pastor of Forest Hills UMC.