I experienced a wonderful, Spirit-filled time of Holy Conferencing at the East Ohio Annual Conference at Lakeside this week. (For friends who are not United Methodist and/or who live outside of Ohio, Lakeside is a quaint Chautaqua community on Lake Erie in Lakeside-Marblehead, Ohio, where the focus is on spiritual growth and renewal. Check it out at http://www.lakesideohio.com/). I have attended Annual Conference sessions in Pennsylvania and Indiana in the past, and here in East Ohio last year, but there was something special about this year’s conference. While we conducted the business of the conference, heard reports, discussed resolutions and the 32 Constitutional Amendments from General Conference, often with varying viewpoints, the conversation was indeed holy. There was a refreshing spirit of reverence and respect.
Another thing that I find fascinating in East Ohio that I have not seen at other Annual Conferences is the focus on children and families. It’s like “old home week” – whole families come to conference, not just those who are the voting “members” of the conference. The venue certainly creates this spirit of openness, but it’s the people who act on it. While the clergy and lay members discuss the order of the day, the children participate in Vacation Bible School at Lakeside United Methodist Church. Then at the end of the week, the children come and present their closing VBS program to the whole conference. It’s great – certainly a highlight of the conference for me. Having VBS during Annual Conference says that children are indeed a priority; they are NOT the “future” of the church, but an integral part of the church today.
John Wesley taught that Christian conferencing was a “means of grace” – outward signs, words or actions, ordained of God to be channels whereby we experience prevenient, justifying or sanctifying grace. Holy conferencing at Lakeside really was a “means of grace” for me – I am grateful to have been a part of it.