Next week I will make my annual trek to Athens, Georgia for (no...not a Georgia Football game...I wish) the North Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. For the last sixteen years, I have traveled to Annual Conference for the church's annual decision-making session. For you non-United Methodists, don't quit reading. If you are Baptist, it's like going to the Georgia Baptist Convention. If you are Presbyterian, it's like going to the annual meeting of the Regional Presbytery. If you are Pentecostal, well, it's kind of like going to campmeeting...sorta. If you aren't of the Christian faith or even if you are a United Methodist and simply choose not to care, there are some good things about going to Annual Conference (A.C.) that are worth mentioning. Here's my list:
1. Worship - I look forward to worship at A.C. more than anything. This year, my former Senior Pastor and my mentor, Rev. Al Turnell, will be preaching the memorial service on Wednesday afternoon. I can't wait to hear Al! At A.C., we ordain new ministers, remember our brothers and sisters who have passed on, celebrate Holy Communion, hear great preaching, meditate on good devotionals, and listen to outstanding music. This year, the Hope of Africa children's choir will be singing. Hands down - worship is the best thing about A.C.
2. Catching up with friends - fellow ministers and friends I rarely get to see will be at A.C. Sometimes the best things about A.C. happen in the hallways and restaurants where friends catch up.
3. Food - It is hard to maintain a healthy diet at A.C. There is a Krispy Kreme donut shop AND a Dunkin Donut in Athens. Where else can you eat at The Varsity, Harry Bissett's (a local cajun eatery), and The Noodle House (Chinese fare) all in the same day?....not even in Atlanta. You know, Athens isn't known as the Holy City for nothing.
4. Influencing the future of the church - A young minister like me has the opportunity to use his/her vote to influence the direction of the church. At A.C. one can exercise justice, grace, and conviction with the simple raising of the hand numerous times each day. This year there are 32 Constitutional Ammendments to be voted upon. Pray that our delegates seek God's guidance in these votes.
There are some things I don't like about Annual Conference, however, but I won't bore you with a long list. I can sum up my dislikes by A.C. with one word - politics. Yes, politics is at play in the church as much as it is in Washington, D.C. We sometimes distort the Good News of the Gospel by raring the ugly faces of politics and division. With that said, being a delegate to Annual Conference is a privilege, and I look forward to spending a few days in Athens with 2000 of my closest friends. If I listen carefully, I just might hear the faint roar of my other 92,000 friends down the street in Sanford Stadium. O.k....maybe not.