Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Methodist Connexion

Yes, you read that right: this post is about the Methodist connection, or as John Wesley used to say, the connexion. This is the time of year that seemingly normal Methodists around the world turn into nerds, take vacations from their jobs and travel to Annual Conference to legislate. Well, Annual Conference season isn't just about legislation. It's about Methodists gathering by regions (aka Conferences) to worship, greet old friends, share our favorite foods at table, and have Bible study.

In East Ohio (the Annual Conference in which Ashland is located), conference is held each year at LakeSide, OH, a chatauqua on Lake Erie. I have many fond memories of LakeSide from the time I was a young teen until I left for seminary in Boston. I remember long talks on our porch (and my friends' porches), passing bags of candy around when legislation got boring, daily trips to Cokesbury, putt-putt golf, and Bible study on the pier.

LakeSide's pier. Photo credit: Cheryl Duell, EOAC 2011
And of course, there's the food: Patio Ice, Sloopy's pizza, Moose Track ice cream, and freshly made donuts and orange juice at the Patio each morning. Even if it was cold cuts in a friend's kitchen, each meal at LakeSide was special because it was spent with friends. The highlight of every Annual Conference is the ordination service, when pastors and future pastors are ordained and commissioned for ministry. The bishop and their friends and mentors lay hands on them and pray. Then they are presented with new red stoles (for Pentecost!) and either a chalice and patten set (Elders) or a bowl and pitcher set (Deacons) to symbolize their new roles.

June is a poignant time for United Methodists everywhere, whether or not they can make it to conference. Whenever we gather for Annual Conference, we sing a classic Charles Wesley hymn, "And Are We Yet Alive?"
And are we yet alive,
And see each other’s face?
Glory and thanks to Jesus give
For His almighty grace!

Preserved by power divine
To full salvation here,
Again in Jesus’ praise we join
And in His sight appear.

What troubles have we seen,
What mighty conflicts past,
Fightings without, and fears within,
Since we assembled last!

Yet out of all the Lord
Hath brought us by His love;
And still He doth His help afford,
And hides our life above.

Then let us make our boast
Of His redeeming power,
Which saves us to the uttermost,
Till we can sin no more.

Let us take up the cross
Till we the crown obtain,
And gladly reckon all things loss
So we may Jesus gain.
 These are just six short verses, but  they tell our story as a people of God. Each year we look back on the hardships we have faced and remember those who have gone home to be with God (there's a hymn for that too, "For All the Saints"). Though we have come through "troubles, mighty conflicts, fightings, and fears," we are still "preserved by power Divine." We're still here, by the grace of God, and we meet again. God gives us strength to endure our trials and continues God's saving work in our lives "to the uttermost." We reaffirm our commitment to give our lives to Christ, forsaking the world, and strive toward Christian perfection.

Annual Conference reminds us that we are not alone in our walk with God. We are connected to a larger community of believers who support us in our faith in life, and in death, inspire us to deeper faith and holy living. They remind us of what is most important in life: our relationships with God and with others. In our special traditions as Methodists, both the sacred and mundane moments we share in community draw us closer to God and to one another.

Have you ever been to Annual Conference or another event in which you set apart some time to be in community with other Christians? What are the moments you remember and why are they important to you?

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