My First Annual Conference

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.”
—Matthew 18:20
Our Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference represents a gathering of a bit more than two or three—in fact, “hundreds” might be more accurate. June 11-13 feels like it’s just around the corner as the Salem Convention Center in Salem, Oregon, awaits our 47th session.

My first annual conference (AC) experience was in 2013 when the congregation of Valley United Methodist Church in Veneta, Oregon, chose me as its representative lay member. Despite not knowing what to really expect, I went with an open mind and an open heart. The people that I met, the Spirit that I felt, and the connections that I made were life-changing and spirit-affirming. It was a spiritual experience that truly changed me.

I wasn’t able to attend the New Members Orientation and, since there were 5 other people from my church and my pastor already going, I felt like I could navigate the packed schedule of workshops, sessions, and meals. I remember taking a lot of notes so that I could fulfill my 4 basic duties as lay member:
  • Participate in the AC session and vote on legislation.
  • Interpret (with the pastor) the actions of the AC session to the congregation.
  • Serve as a member of the Church Council and Finance Committees.
  • Report back to the congregation.
The theme for the 2013 Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference was “disciple is a verb.” Bishop Grant Hagiya welcomed us with these words:

“Christians are called to be people who are in action, moving out of the church and transforming the world. ‘Disciple’ is not a label or an achievement; it is a way of living our lives as called by Christ. Our founder, John Wesley, was more than anything a person of action."

Part of the “action” of the conference was voting on 16 constitutional amendments and standing resolutions that covered gun violence, relations in Palestine and Israel, health care reform, and discrimination.
  We heard two special guests:
Bishop Thomas Bickerton, from the Greater Pittsburgh Area, has led the church’s efforts in the area of global health. He has travelled the world as a spokesperson for the Imagine No Malaria campaign. He is a compelling speaker, and I was inspired about the special connection the  United Methodist Church has to the people of Africa.
Phyllis Tickle
Phyllis Tickle

Phyllis Tickle, a noted scholar, author, and lecturer on religion in America, gave us a taste of her latest book Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters. She explored and explained a concise history of the 500 years after the church’s formation…and that was all before lunch. After the break, she focused on the historical and societal impacts of science, the two World Wars, and the women’s movement on religion and the evolution (or, in some cases, the lack of evolution) of the church. Her talk was not only informative, but laced with humor.
Bishop Bickerton
Bishop Thomas Bickerton
The ordination ceremony was a moving, humbling experience as Bishop Bickerton knelt with the candidates and gave a stirring call to action.

The biggest takeaway for me was Bishop Hagiya’s focus on “disciple” as a verb for both laity and clergy. His was a call to action for all members of the church, the body of Christ, to step up and step forward to help lead the church into the community and into the 21st century.

My first AC experience was life-changing…and I think I was almost ready for it. In 2014, I went to AC for a second time. During the commissioning ceremony, I was stirred by the Spirit to answer a call to service that has since led me to preach, to teach, and to be Crater Lake’s District Lay Leader.

This year, I look forward to not only attending as a function of being Crater Lake’s District Lay Leader, but also as a co-facilitator of one of the laity workshops. I’ve felt called to act upon the conviction to connect and am trying to live in this spirit.

I want to encourage everyone to participate in AC this year. Notice that I didn’t say “attend” or “go to.” Listen for the Holy Spirit calling to you to act, to participate, to be present in mind, body, and spirit to connecting to God, to connecting to others, and to connecting to yourself at this unique event. You’ve probably heard the phrase “garbage in, garbage out”; it’s the negative side of saying “you get back what you put in.” But an experience like Annual Conference is like that: If you go into it with the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit will come out through you.

Come! Experience the blessing of our connection. Come experience the Holy Spirit at work in you and throughyou. Come for the experience.
Register now at http://www.umoi.org/AC.

Many blessings,
Teri Watanabe
Crater Lake District Lay Leader

Teri Watanabe
Teri Watanabe is the Crater Lake District Lay Leader. Contact her at twwrite1@gmail.com.