There is an energy in the air. People are greeting each other—shaking hands, hugging, kissing each other on the cheek. There is laughter and tidings of:
- “How have you been!?”
- “Doing good! How bout you?”
- “Oh . . . God is good!”
- “How is the church doing?”
- “Rockin’ and Rollin’!”
People are dressed in their Sunday finery—some of them at least. There is everything from searsucker suits with gawdy bow ties and Cole Haan shoes to blue jeans, polos, and sneakers, to shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops.
Vendors are set up to ply their wares. People at information booths are informing those seeking to be informed.
There is worship that reaches the greatest heights of heaven, lots of scripture readings, good preaching, communion . . .
It’s a celebration! It’s Mississippi Annual Conference (again).
Conference is always a special time in the lives of United Methodists. It is the time that we gather as one community, one body, to discuss the business of the church, to worship with each other, to fellowship with each other, and to catch up with each other.
But this year is a little different. This year we gather as a conference divided. Or do we? There were 189 churches in MS that disaffiliated this year. We prayed for our friends who are moving on to different horizons. We recognized our hurt and anger throughout this painful process of separation. We cried! Not only because some relationships have been broken beyond repair, but mostly because the UMC that we all love has been wounded.
And then we prayed . . . for God’s blessings to be upon those moving on, and upon those of us who are staying. We prayed for God’s healing, for the Holy Spirit to be poured into our wounds as a soothing balm to heal us and make us whole again.
We prayed! And we felt the wounds beginning to close.
God is not finished with the UMC. Our wonderful Bishop, Sharma Louis, reminded us of this over and over again: “God is not finished with the UMC!”
I for one believe her. My wounds are beginning to heal. This is evidenced by what God has already been doing at NAUMC – LaMission! For me at least, pain and frustration are quickly giving way to excitement. If God can raise up stones to be children for Abraham, what more can God do?
I find these days that I can scarcely sleep. But not because of the pain and worry over disaffiliation. But because of the excitement of what is coming. It’s like the low rumble thunder in a darkening summer sky that promises soothing, blessed, rain. The breeze picks up and there is a whisper that echoes through the trees. “Be still and know that I am God!”
There is reason for hope, reason for joy, reason to smile again.