PATHWAY TO HIS PRESENCE
There were many delightful and inspiring moments as the South Georgia Annual Conference convened in Tifton this week. Coming shortly after the General Conference held in Portland, Ore., our delegates showed amazing perseverance from the tiring few weeks of travel, meetings and questions required by the lay and clergy delegation to Portland.
If South Georgia delegates came to Tifton with heavy hearts and questions about the future of our church, our concerns quickly found a bit of relief even before we entered the UGA Conference Center. As it often does, surprises come from unexpected sources. This time, God used youth.
Young people directing the traffic inspired us with a novel way to point us toward the various parking places. Lined up all along the sides and middle of the road, their joyful countenances reminded us that whatever we might be worried about, laughter would do us good, like a medicine.
These young people danced as they pointed to our places to park. Some listened to music through headphones, others listened to the music in their heads. They were bright, cheerful and happy, and their mood jumped from the hot pavement where they danced and into our cars as we pulled in. They probably had no idea of the impact they had. They took a job that in most cases would just be “Ho hum” and changed it into an “Oh boy!” Their rhythm moved into my soul and went with me into the Conference.
What I saw in them was the ability we all have to change the mood and atmosphere of another because of our joy. They danced a touch of grace into our day, through and over any worries we might have brought with us to Annual Conference. Their joy did not minimize the seriousness of our concerns; it just made those concerns find a softer place to land, a place of protection, a place where honest dialogue would be safe.
I am writing this after two days of Conference, and there are two more days to go. I personally felt that these first two days have been some of the most beautiful, inspirational and worth-while beginnings I have ever known at an Annual Conference.
Dr. Winston Worrell’s marvelous teaching on witnessing brought the same genuine passion for Jesus that I have always seen in this fine man. How wonderful it is to listen to a sold-out-to-Jesus Christian teacher!
I learned from each South Georgia Conference History Moment that Dave Hansen had researched. I drank in the beautiful music brought to us by outstanding choirs, orchestras and hand bells, and thought I would float out of my seat after Buddy Greene played for us, ending with the beautiful song he and Mark Lowry wrote, “Mary Did You Know?” Bishop James King, Jr, always a gifted speaker, brought moments of relaxation, his quick wit clearing the way for us not to take ourselves so seriously. This was particularly evident when a cell phone went off at a very inopportune time, playing a lively song throughout the quiet auditorium. Bishop King stopped what he was saying, began moving his head to the beat of the music, and even cleverly connected a few words from the music into his speech. His response made a statement to the conference room, reminding us that it’s okay for the business of the church to take a mini-break from the expected, to move away for a second from the outline. To breathe. To find humor. To do whatever necessary to help a brother’s embarrassment over his “uh oh” moment.
The United Methodist Women gave a first-class luncheon to all clergy women, especially recognizing this year as the sixtieth year of ordination of clergy women. The room was full. I never realized there were so many of us! I found this lovely luncheon to be quite a blessing.
The Memorial Service, led by one of my favorite preachers, Don Adams, was meaningful and holy. It was deeply moving to me as I said a final good-bye to my friends Janis Kenney, Judy White, Julian Tucker, and my former District Superintendent, Bill McTier. Hardest for me was saying a final good bye to Dr. Chuck Zimmerman, one of my favorite teachers and friends from my summer classes with Course of Study.
I can’t say that others felt the spiritual emphasis that I felt at Conference, but for me, the experience was purposeful, passionate and promising. It all started when those happy youth danced me into Annual Conference!
The Rev. B.J. Funk, associate pastor of Central UMC in Fitzgerald, has written a book with 50 devotionals on grief based on her personal experience. “Grief is not a Permanent Condition: 50 Devotionals to Help You Through the Grieving Process” points the reader to Jesus and the hope found in Him. Visit www.bjfunkgrief.com for more information and to order. Email Rev. Funk at firstname.lastname@example.org.