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Good to be together

Clergy and laity find renewal and inspiration during the 2022 Michigan Annual Conference.

Attendees reflect on their experiences at this year’s Annual Conference, feeling renewed and inspired as they return home to their places of ministry.

JAMES DEATON
Content Editor

“Annual Conference is meant to give us energy and increase our resilience in our places of ministry where we’re going. Take how you’ve experienced God’s Spirit back to your place of ministry.”

Bishop David Bard encouraged conference attendees and sent them out into the world during his closing devotion at the end of business last Saturday. The bishop’s non-anxious presence had been a gift throughout the week, as impassioned voting members debated business items and tension rose over the news of the creation of a new Methodist denomination.

The conference theme, “Mourning to Dancing,” became the thread that sewed together business, worship, and fellowship. And the intentional pace of the schedule created by conference leadership gave time and space for people to be in each other’s presence, for the first time in three very long years.

Fifteen attendees, from clergy and laity, shared their thoughts on how good it was to be together. They talked about finding comfort in community with siblings in Christ. They were grateful for opportunities to be honest, to be themselves. And they found sustenance for facing the challenges awaiting them back home. Listen to their heartfelt words and be encouraged for the days ahead.

Comfort in community

“Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11).

Deacon Alex Plum, Cass Community UMC: “For me, it was all about seeing my colleagues in ministry. It was soul renewing to be in the physical presence of dear ones alongside whom I’ve toiled in the garden of God. Hugs, smiles, jokes, deep belly laughs, and good quality time have reenergized me and helped me to remember that I am supported by a host of clergy and lay folks who all love Jesus.”

Fellowship during Annual Conferece
Celia Peters and Jen Peters talk to Sarah Vollmer, Annual Conference Registrar, during the 2022 Michigan Annual Conference. ~ MIphoto/Jonathan Trites

Maddy Martinson, Lay Discipleship Director, Marshall UMC: “One of my takeaways from Annual Conference is that everyone who has led in the church in the past two years has this shared experience that is difficult to describe. Being able to gather in person to share these experiences, which were affirmed by speakers like Rev. Dr. Ron Bell, gave me hope and relief to know that we are not alone in this. In addition, Annual Conference offered us practical resilience tools to utilize moving forward.

Rev. Haley Hansen, Open Door UMC: “This is my first in-person annual conference, and it was so good to meet colleagues face-to-face. I start my first appointment July 1, so I feel more resilient in that my network in Michigan is beginning to grow a little. Knowing that I have people in my corner (whom I have seen in person!) makes me feel like I have boosted my resiliency going forward. Ministry, after all, is a team sport.”

Deacon LuAnn Stanley Hook, Holland First UMC: “I experienced Annual Conference this year through the lens of ordination, both my own and that of my cohort of 16 other colleagues. I was energized and inspired by being together with this tenacious group who struggled through years of COVID fatigue to not only complete the requirements for full ordination, but to lead vibrant ministry while doing so.”

Rev. Jeremy Wicks, Big Rapids First UMC: “After so long without meeting face-to-face as a conference, it was life giving to be reminded that there are others on this journey with me. We are in a precarious place in the life of the church, and it’s so easy to feel isolated and alone in our struggles. To stand in a space, sing the songs of our faith, and hear the stories of my church family was life giving for this pastor.” 

Space for authenticity

“You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).

Cyndy Rossman, East Winds District Co-Lay Leader: “Conference was thought provoking and gave ideas on creating dialogue with other people. To be honest, I was overly anxious on the first day, being shoulder to shoulder with so many people. I hadn’t been in that situation in almost three years. That was overwhelming. But being around people, and meeting some I’d only met previously on Zoom, reenergized me and gives me hope for the future.”

Small groups meet to discuss resilience and caring for ourselves following the teaching session by Rev. Dr. Ron Bell.
Conference attendees met in small groups to process teachings gleaned during Rev. Dr. Ron Bell’s Friday morning teaching session. ~ MIphoto/Jonathan Trites

Rev. Jennifer Jue, Brookside, Trinity, and Calvary UMCs: “The Annual Conference worship preachers, guest teachers, and music leaders all provided messages of God’s love, hope, and resilience for our personal lives and in our ministry and community settings. Derrick Scott’s teaching session on resilience provided practical advice on centering and remaining calm in times of crisis and change. Bishop Bard’s and Rev. Dr. Ron Bell’s sermons on resilience and change were also inspiring and memorable. Each session was food for the soul.”

Wayne Brunt, Certified Lay Minister, Hesperia and Fremont UMCs: “This was my first conference and I really was looking for something positive to take back to my congregations with all the changes that our denomination is facing. I introduced myself to Bishop Bard on Thursday evening and told him I really enjoyed his opening sermon. I came away with a calmness in my spirit after hearing and speaking with him. My whole attitude shifted when he talked about God’s time signatures in our lives.”

Rev. Lanette Van, Clare UMC: “My takeaway from this year’s Annual Conference is the reminder and reassurance that God brings consolation to us in the midst of our disconsolation, dancing into our mourning. So often, we see mourning and dancing as either/or, when in the reality of God’s grace, it is yes and yes. In the honesty of our humanity, we can speak to the truth of our grief and experience the abiding presence of God with us that brings us peace, healing, joy and hope.”

Rev. Amee Paparella, Sunnyside UMC: “What energized me the most was the careful, intentional space created for grief and loss. Pretenses fall away when we mourn and what emerges is a powerful authenticity with ourselves, with others, and with God. It’s painful, but it creates deep, meaningful connections. Because we mourned, I felt free to dance.”

Resilience and growth

“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).

Rev. Paul Reissmann, Lake Odessa Central UMC: “We’ve suffered, we’re mourning, but we are also still dancing. It’s the mysterious both/and relationship of dancing with God that makes the church thrive. Our Annual Conference this year tried to give us a sense of that, I feel. My question going back to the pulpit is, how do we invite others into the dance in our home congregations?”

Fellowship and food during Annual Conference.
Diane Gordon enjoys conversation with friends during a meal at Annual Conference. ~ MIphoto/Jonathan Trites

Rev. Chris Lane, Traverse City Central: “I think I got a dose of resilience as a spiritual leader by seeing so many expressions of neighborly love and missions being lived out by our congregations throughout the pandemic. Despite denominational contractions, the people who follow Jesus have work to do. We have refugees to welcome, strangers to befriend.”

Gordon Grigg, Co-Director, Camp Michigamme: “Prior to conference, we had been looking for new staff and volunteers. Then, when we got there and started hearing people speak at the microphone—people interested in matters that were important to us—we knew God was bringing them to us. So, we approached them during breaks. Then, during our five-hour trip back to the UP, we had all this energy and started outlining goals and things we want to improve. We will take what we learned at conference and push it forward.”

Denny Wissinger, Central Bay District Lay Leader: “I will be contacting all churches in the district and offering that I come and give a Sunday morning message on the role of laity, and how important and how crucial laity can be and should be in serving their congregations. I also will be making one-on-one calls to lay leaders throughout the district to assist them where I can. Within my local church, I am looking for ways to increase my ministry such as resuming leading Bible study and finding ways to assist my pastor.

Lesley Bonsky, Laity, Farmington Hills: Orchard UMC: “Returning home from Annual Conference always seems to add a pep to my step. It is an event that comes with a myriad of ideas that are shared about what people are doing in their own ministry settings. This year hearing the Rev. Dr. Ron Bell speak about post-traumatic growth reframed my thinking about what we have lost in the last two years, and toward what we can grow and flourish as a result. Now is the time to change all of the mourning of the lost into dancing some new ministry opportunities into existence.”

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