Friday, June 13, 2008

The Space Between

We just wrapped up the latest meeting of the Annual Conference here in Tennessee, and the clergy and lay delegates have returned to their respective congregations. I don't know anyone who will tell you that they find Conference to be fun (without a heavy dose of sarcasm), but we'll all agree that the business of the Conference is important. Some might even say they find it enjoyable. I had a genuinely good experience at AC this year because it was an opportunity to reconnect with friends, some of whom I hadn't seen in months, or in one case, nearly ten years. Reports on the church finances, setting of apportionments, learning about the different ministries of the Conference, and the Service of Ordination (in which I hope to participate next year) are all important, of course, but maybe the best reason for us to have Annual Conference is those times in between business sessions where we get to hang out with one another.

Conferencing is a major part of our Wesleyan heritage. John Wesley  even put "Holy Conferencing" up there with scripture study and regular practice of the Eucharist on his list of important spiritual disciplines he called "means of grace". In contrast to his Calvinist friends, Wesley saw the church as more than a mere "gathering of the elect", but an absolute necessity in the life of a follower of Jesus because we are much stronger when we work together than we ever could be on our own.

So perhaps the most important reason to spend hours on end sitting in pews with 1,200 others voting on apportionments and authorizing committee actions is not so much the business at hand but the space between those meetings that are left open for us to connect with one another and tend to relationships that we are often otherwise too busy to enjoy. 

Maybe this is even something that is really important about our churches, even if we often forget it. Perhaps the most important thing we do at church is not committee meetings or Bible studies or even weekly worship (although all those things are crucial), but the spaces between these things where we sit down with a cup of coffee or with covered dishes (something Methodists are famous for) and share the joys and sorrows of our lives together. Maybe its that space for relationships that truly bond us together and one family in Christ.

To borrow a phrase from one of my mentors, it's something to ponder.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think Conference is fun! Well, as you say, frustrating and boring in places, but overall, interesting and inspiring and worshipful and filled with fellowship.

I think Wesley was spot on about the importaqnce of holy conferencing. Our life together in those in between moments is a special kind of relection of who we are in Christ.