Annual Conference: Preparing spirit helps members focus


By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

For many years, the Rev. Johnny Dinas has submitted a resolution to the Mississippi Annual Conference.

Each year the resolution, which pertains to prayer, passes almost perfunctorily. However, the spiritual preparation for conference called for in the resolution shouldn’t be overlooked.

One clause of the proposal reads: “That any time during the last two weeks prior to Annual Conference each pastoral charge have some type of prayer meeting glorifying God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit; asking His help as we face Annual Conference with faith, hope and love; and to give power to the life of Christ in the world.”

“We can’t have Annual Conference without that resolution,” said the Rev. Steve Casteel, director of Connectional Ministries. “It is the essence of conferencing. The conversation is not just centered on political issues. It’s centered on God. If we do that, we don’t have to worry about other things.”

Casteel said each of the pre-conference briefing sessions emphasized praying for the conference and reading its scriptural reference, Isaiah 61. “We’re coming off (Hurricane) Katrina and a time of transition,” he said. “This text reminds us that God transforms that.

Nearly 2,200 voting members of the conference, clergy and lay, will begin gathering at Jackson’s Christ United Methodist Church at 2 p.m. Sunday. The opening worship service, the Service of Ordination, begins at 6:30 p.m.

Members and guests can expect a bit more “buzz” in the air at the 2007 Annual Conference because it is a voting year. The conference will elect delegates to the 2008 General and Jurisdictional conferences. Eight clergy and eight lay delegates will be chosen for the General Conference in May 2008 in Fort Worth. An additional eight of each will be elected to go to the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference set for July 2008 at Lake Junaluska, N.C.

Casteel said he hopes the election carries a positive tone. “The tenor of how we do this is just as important as the other things we do,” he said. “I hope there will be genuine conferencing and that the delegation will be diverse in the true sense of the word.

Thirty-seven lay members of the conference have offered themselves as candidates. All clergy in full connection in good standing are eligible for election.

Annual Conference will feature several special events. Among them will be the celebration of Holy Communion with representatives of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, including Bishop Duncan Gray III. That service is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Monday. Also, a songfest will celebrate the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley’s birth. Charles Wesley was the brother of John Wesley, who is considered the founder of Methodism. Charles Wesley wrote numerous hymns that are still sung in the denomination.

Guest speakers for the conference will be Bishop Ivan Abrahams from The Methodist Church of Southern Africa and Dr. F. Belton Joyner Jr., author of Being Methodist in the Bible Belt and Life in the Fish Bowl: Everyday Challenges of Pastors and Their Families.

Members will again have the opportunity on Tuesday to attend breakout sessions focused on specific areas of ministry.

Some new things
Most of the nuts-and-bolts of Annual Conference have been explained at the pre-conference briefings, but Casteel said some changes have been made.

One is that everyone will register on the second level of the Great Hall at Christ UMC. Originally, lay registration was to be held outside the church gymnasium.

One change from last year will have the Mission and Ministry Fair in one large room, while Cokesbury Bookstore will be in smaller rooms off the Mission Fair. The fair will feature displays of a variety of conference ministries. A new feature will be “mission passports” issued to those who attend. Participants will get stickers at each booth they visit for their cards, which resemble official passports. Those who fill their passports will receive goody bags.

Located near the displays will be the Amazing Pace health effort and the Mantles of Praise project.

Mantles of Praise will be a place for participants to make mantles to give to people they appreciate. Churches are asked to bring mantles in advance, but materials will be available to make more at the Annual Conference. The mantles will be presented throughout conference and at the closing worship service.

A special display relating to Nothing But Nets will be set up in the church courtyard. Nothing But Nets is a partnership among The United Methodist Church, the National Basketball Association’s NBA Cares, Sports Illustrated and others to provide mosquito nets to families in Africa in an effort to reduce cases of malaria. Nets that could save as many as four lives are $10.

Conference attendees can take a shot at basketball hoops and soccer nets to raise funds for the project. Also, Casteel said “there are rumors” that Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, the Cabinet and other “celebrities” might engage in a free throw-shooting contest.

The Prayer Room has been relocated to a room near the youth area of the church. The room will be staffed by the Center for Ministry.

A meal has been added to the schedule on Wednesday. “Because of the tight schedule, an on-site lunch from Chimneyville Smokehouse will be available,” Casteel said. The lunch will offer barbecue pork or chicken and trimmings for $5.

Youth Day is set for 2 p.m. Wednesday. Youth are invited to gather in the youth worship center where the Rev. Roger Shock, the new conference Young People’s Ministry coordinator, will be on hand along with some of the youth who have just returned from a trip to Zimbabwe.

Resolutions offered
In addition to the prayer resolution and the required resolution relating to housing for retired clergy, three other resolutions are in the Pre-Conference Workbook.

Several other resolutions will appear in the addendum that members will receive at registration.