Offer Them Christ
The Weblog Of J.F. Howard

2009 Annual Conference Highlights

           The 2009 WNC Conference was one of the best in the 26 I have attended. Bishop Larry Goodpaster set a tone of inspiration and renewal from the start to the finish.

           Here are some thoughts from one of the members of the Conference, Dr. Don Haynes, of Hood Theological Seminary, from a recent article he wrote about the inbreaking of the Holy Spirit this year at Lake Junaluska:

     As a United Methodist preacher, annual conference is “my church.” In June, I attended the Western North Carolina Annual Conference for my fifty-fourth time. As a college student, I received my first appointment in October 1954 by telegram! I have also been to six Jurisdictional Conferences (three as a delegate), five General Conferences (two as a delegate), have been a guest at numerous other annual conferences, and a preacher at one. I thought I had “seen it all.” This was the most exciting, challenging, spiritually uplifting Methodist or United Methodist conference I ever attended.
The entire conference had been unusually superb – a superb “pastoral talk” by our new bishop at the clergy executive session. He said point-blank that if pastors were not effective, they would not get promotions and would need to explain to him why they were being asked to move and why church after church was declining on their watch! He challenged us to raise three fingers as he ticked off his goals – a net gain of 8,000 members [goal is 300,000], 30,000 more in worship, 3,000 volunteers in mission, 300 re-visioned congregations now in maintenance or survival mode, and 30 new church starts – all in 3 years. Now that is gravitas! And faith!
     We had from our own members good preaching, good music, and pointed debate that was kept to the rules of “two speeches for and two against and none to exceed three minutes.” I had a great luncheon with the three children of a deceased minister whose memorial I wrote, and they reminisced of their daddy’s days on a six point circuit and how Bishop Kenneth Goodson got him into conference membership with 30 hours of college, achieved while his daughter was a college senior! Great time! Great memories. But a new feature was our bishop’s teaching the Bible for an hour each day just after lunch! Wow, this was different! My memory delved into my acquaintance with the role of bishops since Asbury and one thing was clear – Larry Goodpaster is going to be a spiritual leader!
     Then came Saturday night – ordination of Deacons and Elders. Bishop William Hutchinson of Louisiana was the preacher. Now, frankly, the congregation had perspired its way through a long ordination liturgy, and friends and family of ordinands had miles to travel back home and really came to support and take pictures with their loves ones! No one really comes to ordination to hear the sermon! The hour is already late when it starts. I have heard scores of ordination sermons and remember only one from the past. This was the bishop’s handicap as he started to preach.
Well! No wonder the United Methodists of Louisiana asked for him back for his third quadrennium – this guy is dynamite. If ever before at annual conference I have heard a sermon on Christian perfection, it was so lousy that I have forgotten it! When he started talking about holiness as a dropped stitch in the tapestry of United Methodist weavings, I knew that he was biting off a homiletical challenge! He reminded us of Wesley’s belief in holiness of heart and life. He accurately noted that the “holiness movement” of an older Methodism morphed perfecting grace into a moralistic legalism which not only called Christians to be bit ibkt “not of the world,” but also called them to be out of the world”! He so much as told us that we threw out the baby with the bath water. We are in danger of John Wesley’s greatest fear, that we “become a dead sect.” He called us to remember the General Rules and the need for self-discipline as well as doctrine. No one was moving; this man had “unction.” Then came a powerful climax. As he seemed to tap the heavenlies of which Paul spoke in Ephesians, Bishop Hutchinson reached to the twelfth century to move us to the edge of our post-modern seats with
Veni, Creator Spiritus!
          Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire and lighten with celestial fire
          Thou the anointing Spirit art who doest Thy sevenfold gifts impart.
          Thy blessed unction from above is comfort, life and fire of love
          Enable with perpetual light the dullness of our blinded sight.
          Anoint and cheer our soiled face with the abundance of Thy grace;
          Keep far our foes, give peace at home, where Thou art Guide no ill can come.
          Teach us to know the Father, Son, and Thee of both, to be but One
          That thro’ the ages all along This, this may be our endless song:
     Two thousand people were on their feet. “Amen’s” were being heard. But it was time for the recessional, when the ordinands filed out to meet those loved ones and face the cameras. Like Kierkegaard’s “Parable of the Ducks,” we were ready to dampen our emotions, get out of flying mode, and all waddle home!
     Then it happened. Bishop Larry Goodpaster, the next president of the Council of Bishops, stepped to the pulpit and then moved to the side of it. He said, “I have read the bulletin; it is time for a hymn and the recessional of our ordinands and the benediction. I know the Worship Committee is going to kill me, but I feel the Spirit moving. I want the District Superintendents to come and line up behind me. John-Palmer, play the hymn through twice,
          ‘God of Love and God of Power, grant us in this burning hour
          grace to ask these gifts of thee, daring hearts and spirits free.’ “
     “And,” the bishop continued, “if any of you among the laity feel that God is calling you to ordained ministry, come forward, go to your D.S. and make an appointment to see him or her next week.” I was sitting among the Elders who joined the bishops and superintendent in laying hands on the ordinands. Someone said in a loud whisper, “Bishop, you are brave, but what if no one comes.”
About that time from the rear of Lake Junaluska’s vast Stuart Auditorium, I heard clapping and shouting – someone was coming! Then from another section, more applause – someone else was coming. By now there was hardly a dry eye in the house. As the organ played on, I thought of Bishop Gerald Kennedy’s third stanza,
          “All our lives belong to thee, thou our final loyalty,
          slave are we whene’er we share that devotion anywhere,
          God of love and God of power, Thou hast called us for this hour.”
     And they kept coming. And they kept coming. The bishop was running from one set of steps to the other, embracing each one and saying a word to them. Superintendents were embracing people they had never seen before – many of them not even delegates but laity who had come in the vans to see their pastors ordained! Now the newly-ordained began to come on stage and embrace members of their church! The newly-ordained were hugging the newly-called!
And the organ played on! I began to count the people on the huge stage and subtract the number of superintendents and bishops and Board of Ordained Ministry members and new with their red stoles! Thirty-seven people had come forward to say, “I am Thine oh Lord, I have heard thy voice and it told thy love to me; (now) I long to rise in the arms of faith and be closer drawn to thee.” My mind went to a newer beloved hymn, “…I have made the darkness bright, who will bear my light to them – whom shall I send.” Here they stood, publicly committing themselves to “ Here I am Lord…I will go Lord. If you lead me, I will hold your people in my heart.”
     People were smiling, laughing and hugging throughout the auditorium. Yes, I’ll admit, I was crying tears of sheer joy. As the ordinands regrouped for the recessional, members of the congregation jammed the stage seeking out the members of their churches, pastors were seeking out members of former churches, everyone was wanting to speak to the Bishop who had delivered such a moving message and the Bishop who had given an old-fashioned Methodist/EUB altar call! I found myself uttering the last words of Holy Scripture, words I never use because, to the detriment of my own soul, I let the charismatics own them – “Amen, Come Lord Jesus.”
     And it all happened at an annual conference in 2009 right there in front of God and everybody!
I went out looking for the ten ordinands whom I had taught in seminary, proudly standing with them for a picture. I was constantly meeting up with my own generation of septuagenarians – old codgers – who were crying and saying, “Did you ever think we would see something like this?” My stock answer was, “This is my fifty-fourth annual conference, and I have never experienced a night like this at annual conference.” To the ordinands I said, “You have this night been a part of history; this night will be little forgotten and long remembered.” As I walked through the dark to our car, I felt closer to John Wesley’s “strangely warmed” heart than I had felt in a long, long time, if ever! I came home and pulled the little volume from my shelf I love to re-read on rare occasions like this – William Sangster’s 1945 volume,
Methodism Can Be Born Again.
     The Lord is not through with this Church yet!

The Rev. Dr. Donald Haynes, retired United Methodist minister, is a columnist for the United Methodist Reporter, and also an instructor in United Methodist studies at Hood Theological Seminary.

July 8, 2009


No Responses to “2009 Annual Conference Highlights”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: