Laura Witkowski gives honest advice to lay members attending the 2023 Michigan Annual Conference.
Associate Director for Lay Leadership Development, Michigan Conference
A year ago, I wrote a similar blog. I do know that. I also know that we have new faces at Annual Conference every year, especially laity! So, in case you haven’t heard—the Michigan Annual Conference is coming!
We continue to be in a difficult moment in The United Methodist Church. We continue to have mixed feelings about Annual Conference. I won’t go into all the reasons why because Bishop Bard helped us name those in his May blog.
So, if you’re new here, welcome! The annual conference (AC) session is the annual meeting of the lay and clergy members of the geographical area, currently the state of Michigan. Our time together typically includes reports of past and ongoing work; adoption of future goals, programs, and budgets in the form of legislation; recognition, commissioning, and ordination of clergy members as deacons and elders; and appointments of clergy members—all of which the bishop presides over. More on this and other helpful information can be found in the Lay Leadership Toolbox—AC Member Guide.
Some tips were offered for laity (and honestly, everyone) before last year’s Annual Conference, and I thought revisiting some and offering updates might be helpful.
Take a breath. “Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).
When you participate in Legislative Committees at 7 pm EDT on either May 23 or 24, take a breath before you log onto Zoom. When you begin to pack. When you begin the trek to Acme. When you walk through the front doors of the Grand Traverse Resort. Take a breath. When you are overwhelmed because you are still getting used to being around this many people. When you must wait in line for meals and it’s taking longer than you’d like. When you disagree with the person speaking at the microphone. When you run out of time to touch base with that one person you didn’t get a chance to see. Take a breath. We’re all just doing the best we can.
Pray. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
The world is broken. The church is splintered. People are hurting. And yet there are moments of joy. Prayer is always appropriate—intercessory prayer, prayer of gratitude, all of it.
Participate. “Each person will have to carry their own load” (Galatians 6:5).
The role of the lay person is an important one. Be sure you participate and take responsibility for having at least the basic information. If you have questions, ask! Your fellow attendees are on the journey, too. It’s important that you are informed on the legislation and information coming before the annual conference. The Board of Laity held a Lay Member Orientation in early May. We recently sent the recording and summary email to all laity registered for Annual Conference as of May 4. Please email me at [email protected] if you did not receive it.
Learn something new. “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge” (Proverbs 18:15).
Never stop learning. One way to do that is by attending Friday’s Laity Perspective (formerly Laity Event). The Board of Laity is excited to welcome Kimberly R. Daniel to share her insights during this time on Friday. Kimberly has over 15 years of experience leading communications efforts at nonprofit organizations and has helped to catalyze faith-driven entrepreneurs to do good. She currently serves as senior director of communications at the Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE). FTE is a leadership incubator that inspires young people to make a difference in the world through Christian communities. She is also a co-founder of DO GOOD X, an initiative that provides a community and an accelerator for underrepresented Christian entrepreneurs whose businesses focus on social impact. Kimberly co-authored A Way Out of No Way: An Approach to Christian Innovation, an award-winning book the Publishing Professionals Network selected for its design. As the daughter of a United Methodist pastor and a teacher, Kimberly is energized by inspiring people to align with their purpose and to make a positive impact in communities with their God-given gifts and talents.
Do no harm. “You must love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
Be kind. Love others. This applies to all things, people, facilities, and God’s creation. Be kind to conference registration staff, hotel check-in staff, food service staff, housekeeping staff, fellow annual conference members, your pastor, your district superintendent, and Bishop Bard. Be kind to golf cart drivers, younger persons, older persons, the person at the microphone, the person standing in front of you or sitting next to you, and yourself. If you need a break or need some fresh air, do that. Take good care of yourself. Stay safe in whatever way that means for you.
Have fun. Experience it, the good and the bad. “It’s better to enjoy what’s at hand than to have an insatiable appetite” (Ecclesiastes 6:9a).
For some, Annual Conference is hard, not always filled with joy, and sometimes a burden. But you’re there! So be there. I have shed tears, laughed, and made many friends. There’s something special about “these people called Methodists” being in a shared space. There’s something special about watching friends, colleagues, and strangers be commissioned and ordained, living into their calling. Meet someone new. Catch up with friends. Enjoy the beauty of Northern Michigan. It’s no secret that Annual Conference has the potential to be tedious and contentious, but don’t let that stop you from doing the work and loving your neighbor through it all.
Overall, give each other grace and give yourself grace while we gather.
Remember who and whose you are.
You are a child of God.
I hope we can connect and say hello at Annual Conference!
Last Updated on May 23, 2023