This past weekend United Methodists from Missouri gathered in Springfield for our Annual Conference gathering. Over the past several years conference has been relatively uneventful. There has been good teaching, good worship, great connection to friends and colleagues from around the connection. The events have been good, but they’ve been relatively flat as well with no major decisions before the body.
This year was different. There were two major decisions to be made. The first was the every four years election of delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences. The second was an action related to conference owned camps.
It’s been five days since the last ballot and I still feel like I should be voting for something. At almost every transition point in the weekend ballots for delegates were collected. The way balloting works for electing delegates, each delegate has to receive a majority of votes on a ballot. There are six clergy and six lay delegates on each delegation and so we start casting six votes per ballot. After six General Conference delegates are elected the balloting moves on to Jurisdictional Conference. As a clergy member I participated in the joy of electing 12 delegates and two alternates from a pool of more than 600 eligible candidates. It only took us 16 ballots. The laity managed to elect their delegates in 10 ballots.
The contentious point of the weekend was the camping discussion. Three years ago annual conference elected a camping board and tasked them with revamping our camping program. The Missouri Annual Conference has historically owned four camps in each of the corners of the state to provide regional camping and retreat ministries (Wilderness, Jo-Ota, Galilee & Blue Mountain). Over my years as a Methodist I have been in ministry at all four of these camp sites. They are all wonderful, holy places. Countless people have met Jesus, been called into ministry, developed life long relationships and had their first kiss at church camp.
The camping board proposed to the conference a new model of camping that is happening this summer. There are three types of camps:
- Mobile camps that bring the camping experience to local churches for a week of day camps. This summer mobile camps are being offered at 10 churches around the state.
- Core camps that provide a traditional, residential camp experience on properties that are not owned by the conference.
- Mission work camps for youth that are offered through a partnership with Youth Works.
The catch is that to engage in this model long-term requires the closing and selling of the previous four campsites. Before the conference this year was a motion from the camping board to close and sell the camps, an alternative motion to reopen the camps and evaluation them for two more years, and two further alternative motions to sell/give two of the camps to associations of churches.
For the most part I felt like all of this was handled with respect and civility. The outcome of the discussion and voting is that the Missouri Annual Conference will be selling the four camps and moving into a new model of camping and retreat ministry. The vote to sell Wilderness to an association failed. Camp Jo-Ota will however be sold to an association that will continue to run the camp.
This is the most Methodist I have felt about an annual conference gathering in years. There were heated discussions from opposing viewpoints. There were tense ballots. People laughed and people cried. At the end of the day we’re all still connected to one another. We are still friends and brothers/sisters in Christ. This is the way connection should work. We may not always agree about certain issues, but we can agree to remain connected to each other in Christ.
“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”
– Ephesians 4:2-3