"The Joy of Annual Conference"
“Am I hearing you right, Bishop Jung? The joy of Annual Conference?”
Yes, my beloved siblings in Christ, Annual Conference is a time for joy. Certainly, we must deal with the business of the Conference, and there are various limitations and concessions we make in the virtual format, but at the deepest level, Annual Conference is the gathering of a beloved covenant community of laity and clergy who love God, love the church, and work together to honor and glorify God through vital mission and ministry. We do not always agree on everything, and we may have conflicted feelings about the future of the church, but we are a body of baptized Christian stewards who are excited about “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
For decades, Annual Conference began with the singing of “And Are We Yet Alive,” and the response on the part of all the leaders of our church was a resounding “yes.” By God’s grace, we are the witness to the world of God’s unconditional love and enduring hope. Annual Conference has always been intended as prayerful and worshipful work, holy Christian Conference, and celebration of the manifold blessings of God. This is still the joy of Annual Conference I wish to lift up.
Our worship is the centerpiece of our time together. From opening worship through our Memorial Service – honoring the laity and clergy who have passed away since our last time together – to our Service of Ordination and Commissioning – which confers God’s blessing on the specialized ministries of those responding to God’s call, we are raising our hearts and voices in praise and thanksgiving. We recognize our retirees and the incredible service they have given to keep our churches strong and our witness great. We recognize and celebrate with various awards, those who make special contributions to ministry in and through our Wisconsin Conference. We have preachers, teachers, and Bible study leaders who shift our focus to the future and to improving our ministry in significant ways.
And we have fellowship. Perhaps the greatest challenge and the most significant sense of loss is that we cannot gather in person, greeting one another face-to-face and sit around tables catching up and sharing our stories. We miss the laughter and the joy that comes when old and new friends spend time in the hallways and at mealtimes and in the free time each evening. But the fact that we cannot have this level of engagement this year simply makes us more aware how precious our covenant community really is. We are a source of joy for one another.
We have a special opportunity and celebration this year. Due to difficult scheduling, we are meeting together on Juneteenth. This is a significant historic memorial for the ending of slavery in the United States, and it stands symbolically for the sacred worth of each person. From our national shame comes resurrection and a deep commitment to radical inclusion and racial justice. For all who are not attending Annual Conference, I heartily recommend attending a Juneteenth celebration. For those of us leading our Wisconsin Conference, our day together of worshipful work is dedicated to the meaning and spirit of Juneteenth. Another reason for joy and celebration.
Meetings are meetings. They can be good and productive, they can be long and waste time, they can be confusing and complex, but they can also be a party. I am inviting you all to a party, celebrating the church of Jesus Christ called United Methodist. I am inviting you to enter into delight and thanksgiving for all the blessings of our ministry and mission together. I invite you to worship and singing, learning and listening, recognitions and remembrance, I am inviting you to the joy of Annual Conference, reminded of the words from scripture,
Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel be glad in its Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with victory.
Let the faithful exult in glory;
let them sing for joy on their couches. (Psalm 149:1-5)
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).