So you’re at your first Annual Conference? Let’s talk it through.
For those of you who aren’t Methodist: Annual Conference is… well… a conference that happens annually. Everyone in a certain area (typically a state or half a state- in my case, Western North Carolina) gathers in one city (in my case, beautiful Lake Junaluska [pronounced roughly like saying “Juno, Alaska” really quickly]) and talks. We talk about God, we talk about ministry, we listen to our bishop talk, we talk about what the bishop said, we talk about what’s happened in the last year, and we talk about our hopes for the upcoming year and beyond.
So, anyway, your first AC. Problems, and solutions, based on my experience:
Problem: Poor kitten, you don’t know anyone. You know those couple of people who worked at camp with you, a handful of folks you went to seminary with, a couple professors who don’t seem to recognize you, and those people from the Board of Ordained Ministry in front of whom you nearly wet yourself a couple months earlier. That’s it.
My solution: Your mom is probably coming to watch you get commissioned, right? Lay in the hotel bed eating pizza and watching Steel Magnolias with her!
Reasonable adult solution: Get out and meet people, girl/bro! Glad-hand, kiss babies, rub elbows with bishops! Get your name and face out there… You never know which of these people could help you in the future….
Theological solution: As our speaker Elaine Heath said today, you don’t need to promote yourself. If God wants to use you, He will send a John the Baptist to declare a way for you. BOOM. Theology’ed.
Problem: You don’t know where, what, or how important anything is, not to mention where to park.
My solution: Go to everything and get there 45 minutes early, thereby stealing all the good parking from the elderly ministers who actually NEED good parking because of their bones and such. Go to things you’re not even supposed to be at. Spend a lot of time nodding and smiling and not knowing what the heck is going on.
Reasonable adult solution: Ask for help.
Theological solution: Ask for help.
Problem: You didn’t know what the dress code is, so you dressed up, like your mother always taught you. Dresses and high-heeled sandals every day if you’re a lady, suits and ties for the gents. Little did you know, this was held in a practically outdoor pavilion, involved much walking, and had little to no air conditioning anywhere– and yes, it’s June. In the South. Develop what a friend impolitely (but hilariously) calls “chub rub” between your legs– aka chafing. Experience a level of foot pain previously only previously known to CIA agents being tortured by the Russians in the 70s.
My solution: Limp, cry (literally, I cried), and go to the drugstore to buy Dr. Scholl’s shoe inserts.
Reasonable adult solution: Go to Old Navy and buy new shoes and pants, idiot. You’re still in the United States, not Russia, despite how it feels; there are stores around.
Theological solution: My mentor would say that the first step toward accepting a call to follow Christ is accepting that that means being crucified with Him. Accept that perhaps your thighs and feet are the first to go?
Problem: You’re not technically on any church’s payroll yet (for another week), so you don’t have anyone to reimburse you for your travel expenses.
My solution: Find the cheapest possible hotel, even if it’s in another town, and even if it looks a little Bates-y. Eat exclusively from fast food $1 menus (until mom arrives, that is! Cha-Ching!). Choose to walk to those fast food restaurants from your hotel, to save gas. (Note: only when safe.) Decline all invitations to go out to expensive meals… You can try this schmoozing thing next year when it’s not coming out of your pocket!
Reasonable adult solution: Contact the conference and ask about this. It’s possible you just assumed that you’re not getting reimbursed.
Theological solution: See above theological solution re: getting crucified.
So there you have it, ladies and gents. For those of you who have not yet attend your first annual conference, I hope this will be helpful.
For the record, my second one is going quite well. I brought comfy shoes, blue jeans, the corporate credit card, and more friends than I had last year. Still not doing the schmoozing thing, on account of I’m terrible at it and also I really like that thing about John the Baptist. Holy conferencing is not about you, it’s about the holy God we invite to be a part of it. The biggest part of it. The only part of it that matters, and can make any of what we dream up possible.