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Faithfulness in a Little

President’s Blog
June 16, 2014

It’s Annual Conference season for United Methodists in the U.S. – the time each year when clergy, lay leaders, guests and their resident Bishops gather together.  Corporate worship is engaged, legislative matters are considered, and missional priorities are reiterated.  Retirements are celebrated, memorial services are held, men and women are ordained, and new appointments are announced. 

For many years, I have heard a refrain about the boredom factor at these 3-4 day meetings.  And, to be fair, as a layperson who has only periodically attended annual conference meetings (and then for specific purposes that allowed me to come and go quickly), I have never had to sit through a legislative session, nor have I experienced feeling that nothing was changing or that nothing was progressing.  And the truth is, that as a layperson I will never sit in the shoes of my ordained brothers and sisters who are required to attend these meetings as part of fulfilling ordination responsibilities and as an act of obedience to their Bishops.  I do not doubt these meetings have their fair share of less than fully exciting moments for everyone involved.  

BUT, I do want to bear witness to the deep joy I have experienced this year in attending five annual conferences in Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan (and next year, others as scheduling allows).  I have been edified by revival quality worship and inspired preaching by the Bishops with enlivening music led by talent within the conferences – worship that called for renewed commitment to Christian service, and that supported new calls to ministry.  I have become familiar with the “episcopal address” and have been inspired again by the vision that each of these bishops is bringing to his or her leadership.

I have had the privilege of bringing greetings on behalf of the seminary and the opportunity to briefly – ever so briefly! – speak about our efforts to strengthen partnership with the church, about how Garrett-Evangelical is understanding itself as a servant seminary,  about pride in our alums who are making a transformative impact, and to express gratitude for the ministries of all present.  I have had the opportunity to offer opening prayers, to join social justice marches and rallies, to talk with Bishops and cabinet members, and to spend time at our display booths and ministry fairs. 

Carrie and Janice 
 Rev. Carrie Berry Carnes
and Janice Ringenberg

 Scott Carnes
 Rev. Scott Carnes

Most importantly, I have been visiting with our alums, brand new and long retired, and hearing how they are faring in ministry, as well as sharing news of the school with them.  There are too many meaningful moments to recount here, but I want to share one experience at the beginning of my sojourn this season.  For me, it was the demonstration of  “faithfulness in a little” at the Illinois Great Rivers conference.  Scott Carnes (G-ETS 2010), Carrie Berry Carnes (G-ETS 2012), Janice Ringenberg (G-ETS 2014), and Chris Quick (G-ETS 2011) worked together to host a creative “appetizer” dinner in a specially decorated room for our school gathering.  Their purpose was to provide something different that would encourage reconnection and new relationship building among those gathered.  The hospitality was exceptional as these four, along with Garrett-Evangelical trustee, Keith Zimmerman (ETS 1974 and G-ETS 1986) literally rolled up their sleeves in the kitchen of First UMC, Peoria, and served homemade appetizers to their fellow clergy and to current Garrett-Evangelical students.  I do have enough annual conference experience to know this is an extremely rare occurrence, if not entirely unheard of - and understandably, because meetings are closely scheduled and realistically, it is simply more efficient to have the meal entirely catered.  Even so, these homemade appetizers became the embodiment of creative, servant leadership in a seemingly small thing, the preparation of a meal. 

As human beings, we are well aware of the emotional significance of a shared meal.  As Christians, we experience the power of the Eucharist as we leave that table a forgiven people who begin anew to love our neighbor.  We are changed by the powerful vision of God’s eschatological banquet and the promise that one day all of God’s children will be welcomed there.  And so, in the lower level of First Church Peoria, we broke bread together, partaking of appetizers, delicious little bits of this and that, and receiving the hospitality offered to friend and to stranger.  It was the provision of life-giving sustenance.  It was a servant act by our graduates that furthered the “kin-dom” even in the midst of what sometimes seems just another boring meeting.  I am reminded to keep my eyes open for these “little” moments of grace, to give thanks for the dedication of our alums, and to be ever so grateful that God is yet at work among us.

And, P.S. – our heartfelt appreciation to Rev. Bob Phillips and the congregation at First Peoria for the generosity of providing us a beautiful venue - without charge.

 

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