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God is at work in our community of faith

May 01, 2017

A fresh perspective on the possibilities of Annual Conference can be found in the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. The first five chapters are filled with one moving experience after another: the Ascension; the Holy Spirit on Pentecost; 3,000 people are saved; and the early Christians meet daily to worship, break bread in their homes, and share their possessions to meet the needs of fellow Christians.

But then in chapter six a problem arises: “Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.”

What are the apostles going to do when faced with a problem that is causing division within the early church? Note carefully how they responded: “And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples ….

The apostles called together the whole community. They held a conference. They trusted that God was at work in the whole community of faith.

Through this community process seven people were chosen to oversee the food ministry to widows. We refer to this as the beginning of deacons, persons called to lead the church in ministries of service, compassion, and justice. The apostles prayed and laid hands on those whom the community had chosen. The result was renewed vitality and increased growth: “The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”

Since the days of John Wesley we Methodists have been coming together to confer on how to live the Christian faith in all areas of life. Wesley started it when he called the early Methodist preachers together annually so they could reflect on what they had faced over the past year. Then he sent them out with renewed commitment and rekindled passion for proclaiming the Gospel and making disciples of Jesus Christ.

The conferences found in Acts 6 and in the early Methodist movement remind us of the spiritual vitality and practical help that our own annual conference session can give to us. At Annual Conference we experience for ourselves what it means to be Alive Together in Christ. Worship will be the core of our conference sessions. Prayer will be ongoing, not only in the plenary sessions, but also through the prayer room that will be available throughout the conference. Testimonies will be shared so that we can see what God is blessing in the South Georgia Conference. Lovett Weems will have three teaching times based on his book, “OVERFLOW: Increase Worship Attendance and Bear More Fruit.” Bishops James Swanson and Mike Watson will preach during the opening service and the memorial service, respectively. I look forward to preaching for the service of ordination and commissioning, as well as during the sending forth service.

Annual Conference will also include an update on the work of the Commission on a Way Forward and on opportunities to give our own input to that group. The work of the commission will be the focus of the special session of General Conference that will meet in St. Louis, Feb. 23 – 26, 2019.

John Killinger, who taught preaching at Vanderbilt, once said: “Alone you are but a fragile vessel. But filled with the power of God there is nothing in the world that can defeat you.” This is my prayer for our Annual Conference session: that we may be filled with the power of God so that nothing in the world can defeat us as we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Alive Together in Christ,

Lawson Bryan

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