By Bishop Goodpaster
When all of our clergy and lay members of Western North Carolina gather for our Annual Conference session from June 18-22, we will be continuing a legacy of John Wesley and Francis Asbury. 270 years ago, Wesley gathering the Methodists for a conference – the year was 1744 and that particular conference was, in the words of Richard Heitzenrater, “an important benchmark in the development of Wesleyan doctrine and discipline.” (Wesley and the People Called Methodists, page 144). Heitzenrater continues: “This conference was an organizational watershed for Wesley and the Methodists – a gathering of their forces, a recapitulation of their ideas, a sorting out of their structure and methods, and a plan for their growth.” (page 146)
When we assemble at Lake Junaluska this June, we will be modeling in the twenty-first century what Wesley planned for that 1744 conference. We will gather our forces: there is something about seeing Stuart Auditorium filled with devoted Methodist Christians, singing, praying, and discovering new ways to channel our energies and passions. We will sort out our structure: yes, every year we tweak the rules and plan of organization a bit, and this year we will have a few. More important, we will once again hear stories from Missional Networks, meet our visionary teams and their leaders, and we will plan for extending the mission of the church in the months ahead.
And, as always, we will reconfirm our identity, our theology, and our polity: through our worship services, study sessions, prayer times, and even talking together under the trees, we will be reminded that we are an Easter people called and sent to serve Christ in our communities and around the world. I think that is why conference has become such an exciting time for me. I get to see and hear what God is doing in your lives, and in our churches, and I am renewed in my confidence that God has not abandoned us but is, indeed, with us until the end of time.
I am not sure what you expect when you come to Lake Junaluska. Perhaps another business meeting. Perhaps a chance to see old friends. Perhaps an opportunity to “get away” for a few days with family. But I sincerely hope and pray that this year you expect a fresh outpouring of God’s Spirit in your life and in the collective lives of our churches. Under the theme Celebrating Generosity, I hope and pray that we will – each one of us – be inspired and motivated to grow in our willingness to share generously out of the abundance of the blessings God has bestowed and continues to bestow upon us.
It will not be business as usual! It cannot be, because when we gather in the name of Christ, there will be an outbreak of the Spirit. And who knows what God may yet do through us – and it probably will not be on the agenda!