Three phrases from a high school track coach have stuck with Paul Perez over the years. Here’s how they apply to the Michigan Annual Conference.
Director of Connectional Ministry, Michigan Conference
This spring, my son, Josh, and daughter, Sofia, ran track for the first time, and they loved it.
As a life-long runner, I was excited my kids found enjoyment in a sport that has been meaningful in my life. But, I also found myself repeating lessons I’ve learned over the years — about eating, hydrating, stretching, and pacing.
It also reminded me of some cross country wisdom from my high school coach, John McGreevy. He would often repeat three phrases that have stuck with me over the years.
“Dress for the weather.”
“Use the hills.”
“Run between the comfort zone and the injury zone.”
McGreevy would always tell us to “dress for the weather,” to “layer up,” reminding us we can always “take a layer off, but it’s hard to put on a layer you don’t have.” In short, “be prepared.” Anticipate what might be needed. Know that things, like Michigan weather, can change quickly and drastically.
“Use the hills” means powering up the incline and striding down the decline during a race. Battling gravity on the way up and cooperating with it on the way down. Use your energy and strength when needed, and conserve it when you can. “Use the hills” has been a metaphor for me living through challenging times in life, personal and professional.
McGreevy would challenge us to run outside of our comfort zone but warned us about crossing into the zone of overuse injuries. It was a balance; you had to know yourself, know your body, to find the sweet spot. As one becomes more conditioned and stronger, the zones can change. So much of life has been for me, finding this balance.
During last week’s Annual Conference, these lessons returned to me again.
“Mourning to Dancing” was this year’s theme scripture grounded in Psalm 30. It sought to honor the tension of lament and hope during these uncertain and turbulent times in our church and world. It also spoke to the resilience of Michigan United Methodist ministry leaders in navigating the last two years of being the church in a pandemic.
Our ministry leaders, clergy and lay, and our ministry settings — local churches, campus ministries, and non-profits — have been through so much these past two years. The “weather” has changed quickly – not only due to COVID-19 but also denominationally, culturally, and politically. The “hills” have been long and arduous. Moving from the work of creating a new Michigan Conference to the impact of the 2019 General Conference special session and being the church during the pandemic has been, for me at least, one long incline. Unfortunately, there have been too many injuries along the way in all of this.
Given this reality, we needed to do Annual Conference a bit differently this year.
When it comes to the Methodist institution of the Annual Conference, United Methodist historian Russell Richey identifies three essential dimensions: revival, fraternity, and polity. Revival refers to faith formation. Fraternity, or fellowship, to relationship building. Polity to decision-making.
Our two virtual conferences prioritized the polity dimension, ensuring the critical decisions necessary for the functioning of the Conference occurred despite not being able to gather in person. This year, there was a conscious effort to rebalance our Conference, prioritizing the revival and fellowship dimensions. There was a felt need for those of us planning to reconnect with God, ourselves, and each other because, as the Servant Song (TFWS, 2222) puts it,
“We are pilgrims on a journey,
We are trav’lers on the road;
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.”
New approaches to the Laity Event, Clergy Session, and Celebration. Worship services with beautiful visuals, meaningful music, and powerful preaching from Bishop Bard and Ron Bell. Ron’s teaching on trauma-informed ministry and breakout discussions led by Naomi García and our Conference’s Congregational Resiliency Catalysts. Videos and panels focusing on resiliency grounded in the everyday experiences of ministry from leaders across our state. A lovely evening concert with Carrie Newcomer. All were attempts to strike this balance.
It was my fervent prayer over the past six months of planning and proration that those who attended the Annual Conference would return feeling a bit revived in mind, body, and spirit and reconnected with each other. I genuinely hope this was the case.
So, as you return home and to your ministry settings, remember: dress for the weather, work the hills, and run between comfort and injury.
For my part this summer, I will be taking my coach’s advice once again. I begin a renewal leave on June 11 and will return on August 21. My goal is to work a long downhill and rebalance my comfort and injury zones through a time of rest and recreation with family and friends.
I hope you might find moments of rest and renewal this summer as well.