More Than a Meeting
As the son of a UMC pastor, I grew up attending Annual Conferences many of my summers. I remember them being, on the whole, dreadfully boring. The real treat in tagging along was when my Mom would take me and my brothers to visit local sites, museums and such. I remember being in awe of the mighty naval ships at dock in Norfolk and gazing up in wonder at the Mill Mountain Star in Roanoke. We got to stay in hotels and we would hope for a pool. But the conference itself was not something I ever looked forward to.
I’m going to be honest, that hasn’t changed much because let’s be real here, attending a three day business meeting is not any of our ideas of ‘fun’. (Ok, maybe some of y’all get excited about it, but you’re kinda weird…) But this year there is a pressing urgency that I believe we are all feeling. Following the incredibly painful results at GC2019, many of us have woken up to the reality that what we do at Annual Conference this year is a matter of life and death. That may sound hyperbolic, but I don’t believe it is. Our ability or inability to organize, to Vote the Slate, to join a nationwide (and even worldwide) movement and overturn the results of GC2019 or at least have a more significant say in the future of the United Methodist Church, truly is a matter of life and death. Will the UMC continue to live, or will it die? Will individual churches and ministries, including my own community of RISE, be able to carry on? Will campus ministries, worldwide disaster relief efforts, and discipleship missions continue to grow and thrive, or will they crumble under the weight of the oppressive Traditional Plan? These are all realities that we face this Annual Conference.
But perhaps more importantly than any of this, it’s a matter of life and death, literally, for countless LGBTQ+ people who are in every church in our connection. It’s simply not enough that some of our churches be welcoming and affirming while others are not. Because the often unspoken truth is that our queer siblings are in those non-affirming churches too. They may be afraid to come out. They may be internalizing the demonic messages that God doesn’t love them. They may be children and teens whose parents have no idea what they are going through. The religious trauma our dear siblings face in our churches can and does kill. We’ve all seen the statistics on suicide, homelessness, and homicide involving LGTBQ+ persons. (If you haven’t, click here and here and here and here to read more.) THIS IS LIFE AND DEATH.
So it is my fervent hope and prayer that we are able to see these realities and unite in prayer, worship, and holy action as we publicly declare that we serve and worship the Author of Life. I hope and pray that we might send a resounding message that shame and death and destruction have no place in the Virginia Annual Conference. That ALL of God’s beloved children are loved, affirmed, and welcome to participate in the entirety of God’s church.
So as we prepare for the start of Annual Conference, let’s join together and invite the Holy Spirit to shake us up, to fill us with strength and endurance, and perhaps even splash some joy over us. Because it may not be as fun as a museum trip, a dip in the pool, or touring a massive ship, but it is a matter of life and death. And for the first time in my life, I am genuinely excited to attend Annual Conference.
(I’m also still hoping for a pool at the hotel…)
I look forward to writing daily reflections and recaps of the events of this year’s Annual Conference. If you have stories to share or you want to connect, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
S. A. King (he/him/his) is the son of a VAUMC pastor, the brother of a VAUMC pastor, and a self-styled “ImPastor” in the VAUMC at RISE Faith Community in Harrisonburg as the Minister of Formation and College Life. He is a recent graduate of Eastern Mennonite Seminary (MDiv ’18). He has struggled with the Spirit over his call to ministry since high school and has attempted to flee the UMC on multiple occasions, but continues to find himself circling back. It’s likely God has a reason for that.