Tri-Conference Annual meeting 2019
If you are one of those people who enjoy coming to worship, gathering in a community of other believers, seeking God’s presence, being reminded of God’s love for you, being stretched and challenged, inspired and motivated by the music and the prayers and the words of the speakers in worship, then Sunday morning worship is a time you look forward to all week. Weekly Worship is like the Friday night football game, the high point of all that week’s practice. (Or, if you were in the Marching Band, it is Half-Time, the real reason for Friday night’s activity– a football game being just something to fill in the time around the Band event).
If that is the way you look at Sunday morning worship at your home church, then gatherings of the larger church like this past weekend’s Tri-Conference Annual meeting are the All Star game of worship.
Hundreds of worshipers gather; the cream of the varsity of worshiping congregations across the Conferences. The boldest singers, the most fervent pray-ers, the best and brightest worshipers all in one space, worshiping together.
The larger crowd means being able to afford to bring in the best preachers and speakers and musicians. There are lots of people helping out in worship: preaching, and praying, and speaking. A select team of the best worship planners have spent countless hours planning the worship experiences. And there is also this: Something happens to preachers when sharing a worship time with one of those best-ever preachers; it brings out our competitive instincts. Each one does their best, and their best motivates the others to do better. We all want to do our very best when we appear before the very best of worshippers and before our colleagues, so we urge each other on to better and better work, making the whole event better still.
One of my favorite things about gatherings like Annual Conference and Synod and General Assembly is that the worship is almost always WAY over the top spectacular. It is the best worship we can muster, but there is more than that for working pastors. Most of us serving in the pulpit are busy on Sunday mornings. Worship is important to us or we wouldn’t be in ministry, but it’s hard to fully lose yourself in worship if you are the one in charge of making sure everything goes well. I love to be in worship, but there is always a part of me that is aware of the time, and worried about what is coming next, and will the person coming to do the next segment remember, and will he even show up today, and will the pieces fit together in the way we imagined they would when we planned the day.
And then, there is the preaching. Most Sundays, I have to listen to my own preaching. I rarely get to hear the work of others as they proclaim the Good News.
This Tri-Conference Annual Meetings had WORSHIP! Whenever we have a multi-day meeting like this one, there are several opportunities for worship, and every one of these was an absolute gem! The worship times were dramatic and different from each other. We heard the best preachers, we heard stories from our Conferences’ past, and we heard personal stories told by the people who experienced them. I’m not one to cry much, but there were several points along the way when I could only weep. I wept for a friend as she spoke of a time when her heart was broken, and how God touched her in that moment with a reminder that weeping may go on for the night, but there is healing in the morning. I wept with laughter at stories of God’s quirky sense of humor reminding us of what is truly important.
On Sunday morning, our last official act of the Conference meeting was to officially install three new Associate Conference Ministers and affirm the continuing call of the fourth; Jonna Jensen, thanks be to GOD she is staying!
My original plan was to leave after that early service, which should have had me home by late afternoon. Then I saw the church bulletin information. The eleven o’clock service had a Jazz group. Second service had music provided by a tenor sax, bass guitar, drum, piano, and singer. They did some of the same hymns as the first service but sang the lyrics to decidedly different music. The theme for the Annual Conference meetings was “Come Together.” If you are as ancient as I, you know there was a Beatles tune by that title. That was their postlude. I had never thought of Old Flat Top as a Jesus symbol before that, but I will never again hear that song without thinking about how our community of faith comes together to worship the one who defies borders, and titles, and boundaries, and even styles of music.
South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa Conferences continue to live into this innovative and unique structure where three very different Conferences share one talented team of Ordained and Support staff. There are challenges, to be sure. Making accommodation for each other means greater travel distances for some of us. There are distinct cultural and historical differences between the three Conferences. We have some learning and personal growing to do as we live into what it means to be church together in a different way of organizing ourselves. Now that we have a full slate of Associate Conference Ministers, some of those struggles are beginning to settle out. As we continue to remind ourselves that Jesus reached out beyond the boundaries and barriers of his Palestinian Jewish culture, accepting and loving all of God’s children, we will grow in our own faith and in our imitation of the Christ. As each of us grow in our faith, it will be easier for others to see Christ in us and by that, be drawn to God. As we grow, we will continue to live into the prayer of Jesus that we may all be one. Thanks be to God.