Last week I represented Light of Christ at the Western North Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church at Lake Junaluska (near Waynesville, NC). Annual Conference is the yearly gathering of clergy and lay representatives from the 1100 United Methodist churches in western NC. The theme of the week was Lessons by the Lakeshore, based on Jesus’ teaching by the Sea of Galilee and also inspired by Revelation 22:17, Let those who are thirsty come; and let all who wish take the free gift of the water of life.
Here are some of the highlights:
- Worshipped in eleven diverse services throughout the week.
- Learned from Adam Hamilton, the pastor of the largest United Methodist Church (averaging 8600 in worship) about preaching, worship, leadership, and evangelism.
- Supported new clergy that were ordained and commissioned to serve in ministry.
- Celebrated with retiring clergy and their spouses; honored the clergy and spouses that went to be with God in Heaven over the past year.
- Collected offerings for the Gulfside Ministry in Alabama and for the Imagine No Malaria ministry.
- Changed the structure of the Annual Conference from 15 districts to 8. The Charlotte District is now the Metro District. The Rev. Dr. Gary Royals will serve as Light of Christ’s District Superintendent.
- Approved a budget of $15.7 million dollars to support the ministry of the Annual Conference, a decrease of $1 million from 2012 (-6.13%).
- Received appointments to our churches for the 2012-2013 year, beginning in July. I am blessed to be back at Light of Christ for a ninth year.
We also heard reports from General Conference, the international gathering of United Methodists held once every four years that took place in Florida earlier this year. We face many challenges as a denomination with continued decline in worship attendance, professions of faith, and new members. Basically, we are an aging denomination that is not reaching younger generations. We gratefully welcome and embrace all generations in our churches. We just are not balancing out our older members with young people. The average age in United Methodism is 57. Thankfully, Light of Christ is ahead of the curve in age diversity. We are reaching young families.
Other challenges to United Methodism include financial support, polemic views on issues such as homosexuality, and an overly bureaucratic structure hampered by impasse and frustration. Cheery stuff, huh?
In the midst of this, I kept hearing encouraging themes throughout Annual Conference from our leaders, such as:
- Seek God in prayer!
- Persevere! God is with us. Be true to our calling and mission, and let God lead us into a bright future.
- Heed the warning to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3: refuse to be lukewarm!
- Receive God’s joy in ministry and life every day!
- Stay true to our first love, Jesus. He will see us through!
I left Annual Conference feeling renewed and excited. Yes, we United Methodists have challenges ahead, but we are in this together. Guided by the Holy Spirit, we will shine the light of Christ in the world through life transforming ministry to people of all ages, races, genders, and nations.