By Bishop Peggy Johnson (shown here at the 2013 Annual Conference Ordination Service)
Welcome to the time of preparation for the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference, a time when we prepare to be set apart to do the conference’s legislative work and seek, through prayer, worship and witnessing, to do God’s will.
John Wesley called the meetings of the early Methodists “Holy Conferencing.” The Greek word for “Holy,” hagios, means “other,” “different from the world,” or “set apart for God” (www.biblehub.com). Like our forefathers and mothers we are called to a sacred time of worship, learning, prayer, and conversation with God in the center of it all.
How exciting that we have the newest United Methodist bishop from the continent of Africa, Bishop Gabriel Unda, with us for our opening service of Holy Communion. He is coming to open our eyes to the missional needs of the world and the evangelistic success of the church on his continent.
And what a privilege to sit at the feet of the Rev. Mike Slaughter, lead pastor of the mega-church, Gingamsburg UMC. He will bring us three seminars on how to grow vital congregations.
There is something holy here, something set apart
Also who would want to miss the solemn moments when we ordain and commission women and men for ministry, and when we honor our clergy retirees? Moreover, we will hear a sermon from the Rev. Dr. Byung Woo Cho, as we remember those who have passed on to the Church Triumphant since our last meeting. There is something holy here, something set apart and precious in God’s sight!
As we relate to one another in conversation and debate, in learning together, and in sharing our minds and hearts (which can often be of different perspectives), we are called to have an attitude of holiness. Unlike the world, when we disagree we are to do so in a Christ-like way.
In his writings John Wesley reminds us to ennoble our words in the spirit of grace, seasoned with salt and intended to minister grace to the hearer. (Wesley’s Works, 10:856-857). The Northeast Jurisdiction of the UMC adopted the following rules for Holy Conferencing:
Remember that every person is a child of God
Remember that every person is a child of God. Listen before speaking. Strive to understand from another’s point of view. Speak about issues; do not defame persons. Disagree without being disagreeable. Pray in silence or aloud before decisions. Let prayer interrupt your busyness. Strive to accurately reflect the views of others.
It would be well that we follow these rules during our annual conference and indeed, during all our meetings with one another.
I call all of us to prayer and fasting as we prepare for our May 15-17 meeting. Pray for God to do a new thing among us and to use all that we say and do for good and for his purpose.
One of the priorities of Holy Conferencing for John Wesley was that these meetings would always encourage social holiness. So may we take from this conference new ways of reaching out to the poor, the marginalized and the lost of this world. And may we receive a new spirit, a Holy Spirit, of growth and vitality to share with our congregations.
Bishop Peggy A. Johnson