As I reflect on last week’s Annual Conference, I am overwhelmed by the Spirit’s stirring among us. The new rhythm, I believe, allowed for more time in conversation with colleagues and friends. The blessing of David and Elizabeth McCormick and their daughters as they prepare their hearts, minds and souls to serve in Mozambique as missionaries was a highlight. As always, the services of commissioning, ordination and licensing; the recognition of our retirees and remembrance of those who have entered the church triumphant were moving.
Mike Slaughter challenged all of us to be the best we can be. He reminded us that no matter how large or small our faith communities are, they are critical to the people who need to develop a deeper walk with God.
What is clear is that none of this could happen without the sacrifice and dedication of people who see to it that the band is tuned; the sound and graphics are at their best; certificates are printed; communication before, during and after is clear; people are fed; bathrooms are clean, and so much more.
Each year, the Shreveport churches open their hearts to the Annual Conference. I give thanks for First United Methodist Church for hosting the laity session and ordination. Accommodating our new rhythm was not easy, but they never said “no” to any of our requests. Noel Memorial hosted the retirement luncheon and has hosted the luncheon for as long as anyone can remember. Broadmoor hosted the spouses’ luncheon and Grace Community shared their staff, technology and just about anything else we asked for.
I am grateful to Centenary College for hosting us, feeding us and cleaning up after us. We are forever indebted to Chris Holland, who served on the design team as our liaison, and to Meagan Daigle Habich and the Centenary students for their care and attention to detail.
The Annual Conference Design Team, led by R.L. Bethley, did a beautiful job weaving the theme throughout the Conference. Drew Sutton served as the point person for all the details that we experienced. From the first word uttered to the last, Drew was intimately involved. Adam Philley, Mark Burns and Nolan Budgwater brought the sound of music to our hearts. Mimi McDowell and the team from Noel did an amazing job interpreting the theme into the beautiful altar. Chad Brooks helped bring the Wesley Awards to life through video. Tom Dolph and his team combed through the Wesley submissions and highlighted those that align to our vision and mission in unique ways. Todd Rossnagel worked and reworked our graphics to insure they communicated the message of “Rooted and Grounded.” Ann Sutton created a beautiful image that served as the logo and the center of all our work for the week. Lauren Hudson makes everything come alive through her gift of chalk art. What more can we say about Karli Pidgeon and Katie McKay Simpson, who brought unbounding energy to the Conference? I thank God every day for John Edd Harper whose attention to detail is legend as he prepares us for the clergy session and the service of ordination, commissioning and licensing. To Kathy Fitzhugh, who cares for the families present for the memorial service, we are grateful for her pastoral presence. Evon Malary provided her gift of signing for our ordination, commissioning and licensing service as well as the opening service. This allowed those with hearing impairment to participate fully in these services. For Bertrand Griffin, Kotosha Griffin, Cheri Godwin, Donnie Wilkinson and all the others who have faithfully served on the Design Team and done whatever has been asked of them – we give thanks.
The week would never go as smoothly as it does without other key staff members. Frances Hooton and the prayer team made up of trained Spiritual Directors made sure we were surrounded in prayer. The District Superintendents and the district administrative assistants who make sure to input our delegates’ names and contact information and make sure we have all our pastors in the right places. Betty Backstrom and Steve Backstrom kept us all informed through words and images. I am thankful for Jan Curwick and her staff, Sandy O’Brien, Teresa Stevens and Sandra Green who comb through all of the dollars and decimal points to insure we have accurate reporting. Don Cottrill does the heavy lifting for Annual Conference and his attention to detail is legend. There are two people in particular that work quietly behind the scenes that are rarely recognized but deserve to be so – Kathryn Moore and Rhonda Whitley. Kathryn makes sure all the certificates are correct and are printed. She makes sure that we all have what we need, whether it is a Diet Coke or a Bible and a crozier. She even spray-painted this year’s Wesley Awards! She does so much without bringing attention to her work that even those of us who work closely with her don’t know all that she does. All we know is that it magically appears. Rhonda Whitely is the laser focused detail person. She prepares the agendas, the nametags, arranges all the logistics and again, more than most any of us know!
There are others: Buzzy Anding, who keeps me in check when it comes to parliamentary procedure; Jim DeLaune, who coordinates the tellers; Renee Evans, who extends hospitality to our guests and so many others. There are those who prayed beautifully, read beautifully and made sure all of our people were registered. I know there are others I have failed to mention by name, but you know who you are, and know that we are extraordinarily grateful to the many hours everyone puts into make sure Annual Conference is successful.
At the end of a long and spirit-filled week, I am thankful for the privilege to be Rooted and Grounded with an Annual Conference filled with laity and clergy who know what it means to be the church! There is no one else I would rather be entangled with but you!