As an ordained elder in the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, even on leave, I have to attend what we call Annual Conference every year. This is a giant meeting of all the pastors and lay representatives from all of the UMC's in Iowa, and at this meeting we make big decisions about conference finances and ministry priorities, we ordain new pastors and celebrate retirements, we mourn those we have lost in the past year and the closing of churches. It is a great time of worship and fellowship and I look forward to it every year!
When we left for our grand adventure last year, we did not think I would be back to attend AC this year. However, it weighed heavy on our list of reasons to come back when we began making our plans for the summer. Two extra special reasons included seeing my good friend Heather get ordained, and another good friend's new baby! (Well, new as of last fall.) It was so good to be reunited with my covenant group and to share with each other in person the way we have done over Facebook video chat while I was gone.
Usually, at AC we are assigned seats in the great big hall where we meet, but this year they went rogue and let us all choose our own seats! So Friday night Sarah and I claimed a table in the perfect spot. We ended up having it to ourselves all weekend which we were not mad about.
Friday night also consisted of the Clergy Session of Annual Conference, in which we take official final votes on who is to be commissioned and ordained this year. A young woman from my home church, Laurel, was commissioned as an Elder this year (so she has at least 2 years till she will be fully ordained) and I caught this awesome picture of her sprinkling us with water as we remembered our baptism.
There were lots of highlights of AC this year for me, most of which had nothing to do with the actual business of why we were there. I was a big fan of the rainbow lanyards a group brought, which we could wear to show our support for full inclusion in the church.
I got to meet the aforementioned baby, and she was so stinking adorable! Sarah had her dressed in rainbow outfits all weekend which was just the icing on the cake. Although, this was the closest I could get to a smile from her.
At lunch, after the ordination service, Sarah's daughter and Heather's son got to meet, which was so adorable. Ben tried really hard to help put the pacifier back in her mouth, and she was not having it.
I always love shopping for stoles at AC, although this year I could only look, not purchase. I was tempted by a few but I decided to wait until I am serving a church again to buy anymore, it does not do these works of art justice to just sit in my parent's basement! But if I were going to buy one...this special Easter stole is definitely on the list.
Besides my covenant group, I got to see lots of other friends as well! In this picture, we have Nicole, whom I worked with at Ames First UMC for several years and her daughter Savanna who was the flower girl at our wedding back in 2013!
Every year somebody makes an Annual Conference Bingo sheet, filled with all of the crazy, fun, and ultimately predictable things that happen at Annual Conference. Here's my sheet about halfway through the weekend - I did end up getting a full blackout!
Perhaps the most meaningful time of the whole weekend was the ordination service on Sunday morning, in which Heather got ordained as a Full Elder. Since Sarah was ordained in 2014, and me in 2015, we joined all the other pastors in the conference in robing up for this special service. When communion was served, we made sure to go to Heather's station so we could participate in her first communion as a fully ordained elder. She served with her husband, Chris, which made it extra special.
After the worship service, we couldn't resist taking a selfie with Heather! Chris also took a real picture of the three of us but selfies are kind of our thing so this one is my favorite.
Even though the whole conference lasted an extra day than usual this year, it still went by super quickly! I would have loved to spend more time with all of my friends and colleagues, but I am grateful for the time we had and so glad that I was able to make it back this year. This might be the last time I attend one for a long time...but of course, I said that last year, so we shall see! I never really seem to know what God has in store for me.