For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. (Romans 1:11-12)
After long months of preparation and hundreds of hours of planning and coordination, we experienced our first-ever virtual Annual Conference, hosted on Zoom by GNTV. It was a learning opportunity for us all and I celebrate all the things that went well – and so much went well – and I confess that there is much we can improve. But I am deeply impressed and grateful for the way we worked together through this pandemic time to make our Annual Conference a success. With very few glitches – a momentary loss of electricity at the Conference Center gave us a moment of concern, but God is good! – we were able to conduct our business, celebrate our ministries, and offer worship and praise.
I will not list all the people who worked hard to make Annual Conference a success, because I do not want to leave anyone out, but I do want to acknowledge so much hard work on the part of so many people – Program and Arrangements, Conference staff, cabinet, elected laity and clergy leadership – I cannot thank everyone enough. Members of our Annual Conference have no idea how much is required to make this massive event happen. As I reflect on this year’s Conference, there are a few significant insights that emerge from my heart.
First, there is an impressive and sacred energy that occurs when we gather together in person. Certainly we can get our work done, we can share presentations, and we can celebrate pre-recorded worship experiences – and these are very meaningful and important – but there is a completely different spirit when we are not face-to-face and side-by-side. Second, communication is very different and difficult when we are separated in space and time. We used a “Q&A” feature of Zoom, and this allowed us to work through our Action Items, but in “real time” it caused some frustration and some confusion. It reminds me just how much communication comes from seeing one another – words are often inadequate to fully convey meaning and intention. Seeing raised hands, watching faces and body language, and engaging in person-to-person dialogue is a much richer form of communication than text messages. We were challenged to recognize and respond immediately to messages as they were received.
But third, and most important, my reflection is that God is good, and God’s people working together in the power of God’s Holy Spirit can accomplish great things. Beyond any limitations and deficiencies, what we accomplished together was amazing for this year’s Annual Conference. The worship experiences and our ordination were not as we might have hoped, but they were wonderful and memorable in their own way. I found myself deeply touched by the memorial service. I had a wonderful, holy, grace-overflowing experience with our ordinands and provisional members. I loved and celebrated our diversity, our rich ethnic and cultural community. I am excited by all the new ministries and revitalized ministries reaching new people. I commend the dedicated and committed leadership, especially my partnership with Deanna Shimko and our Conference Board of Laity. I am so hopeful and inspired by our vision and priority to become truly radically inclusive and racially just. I know that we will work together to honor and glorify God in our thoughts, our words, and our actions as we create together – by God’s grace and Spirit – a bright and beautiful future with hope.
For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. These words of Paul are my words. Paul’s hope and desire is my hope and desire. I cannot wait to be with you all again, but until that time, I am grateful to God for the technology and community that connects us and keeps us united in our holy work. Blessings my beautiful Wisconsin people. Thanks be to God!
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).