Your pastor not in the church office? He or she is up north in Acme, Michigan participating in The Michigan Annual Conference.
Every year there are four days toward the end of May and early June when members of the 850 United Methodist churches around Michigan ask, “Where’s my pastor?”
From May 30 to June 2 this year, the answer to that question is, “Grand Traverse Resort.”
Wait a minute! Grand Traverse Resort? Are all the pastors on vacation this week?
Far from it. Michigan’s pastors are among the gathering of approximately 2,000 United Methodists attending the Michigan Annual Conference. This is the third year that the event has been hosted at Grand Traverse Resort in Acme, just north from Traverse City up the coastline of the bay.
“Number one, I get to hear really good singing and preaching. I get to see folks I haven’t seen in a really long time. And I get to hear stories about how the church is moving. For me, that’s the best.” ~ Pastor Mona Dye, Wolf Lake UMC
To say it’s not a vacation is not to say that Annual Conference is not a time for refreshment and renewal. It’s in some ways an awesome family reunion of pastors and church members who have known one another for years. And it’s an opportunity to make new friends, as well.
And worship at Annual Conference is some of the most creative and inspiring worship that many ever experience. The sound of 2,000 voices singing, “And Are We Yet Alive?” — a tradition during opening worship – is a lively sound indeed. Conference preachers this year are “hometown” from within our borders. They include Bishop David Bard, the Rev. Jennifer Browne, and Laura Witkowski. This is Bishop David’s third annual conference since his assignment to the Michigan Area in the fall of 2016. Jennie is The Michigan Conference Director of Clergy Excellence, and Laura serves as the Associate Director of Lay Leadership Development. This is the first time in some years that a layperson has preached at Annual Conference.
All pastors are expected to attend Annual Conference. Churches and districts elect lay persons to equal the number of those pastors in attendance. So, in many ways it is the four days out of the year when United Methodists are most truly connected.
“I love seeing all the people. I love the worship. I missed the last two annual conferences because my husband was sick, and this year I am happy he is here with me.” ~ Pastor Nancy Powers, Perry and Shaftsburg UMCs
And that connection is greater than mere proximity. Not only are conference members seated together in one large hall, they are engaged in what the founder, John Wesley, called, “holy conferencing.” Persons are invited to come to conference opening their minds, ears, and hearts in an attitude of discernment, humility, and love. Well, when that happens during debates and conversations, one can say, “Surely, the presence of the Lord is in this place.”
Yes, there’s plenty of business with voting on a variety of resolutions. And this year conference members will choose who will represent them at the 2020 General Conference of The United Methodist Church. That’s the chief policy-making body of the denomination, a global meeting that takes place in Minneapolis May 5-15, 2020. Michigan will send eight delegates – four clergy and four laity. This year, for the first time, electronic voting will help the decision-making process.
Teaching is another important aspect of any annual conference. This year’s theme – Bold and Effective Leaders – will be demonstrated throughout the days conference is in session. Two women, both daughters of Michigan parsonage families, will talk about how their faith informs their life work. Becca Farnum, daughter of the Rev. Charles and Kendall Farnum, is a peace-builder and educator currently working at Syracuse University in London. She speaks on Friday, May 31, at 1pm. Kristen Grauer, a Foreign Service Officer in the U.S. Department of State, will be speaking simply in her “capacity as a Kid of a Michigan Preacher,” the late Rev. Charles Grauer; mother, Pat Grauer.
“I think Annual Conference is very important. Michigan is so huge that people from Detroit and people from Calumet are barely able to connect. So, I think it is great that we all can connect at a central location to talk and figure out how to make our United Methodist denomination better.” ~ Gordon Grigg, Ishpeming Wesley UMC
Annual Conference is an awesome expression of what it means to be a Methodist. You can sample Annual Conference by joining the action on the livestream. Click here to follow the action that begins at 10 am on Thursday, and to find schedules and other resources.
Where’s my pastor? He or she is in Acme, Michigan, fellowshipping with friends, feeling the movement of the Holy Spirit, learning new things, and acting as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. Please pray for your pastor and for the 2019 session of The Michigan Annual Conference.