This coming Monday, Oklahoma has their Annual Conference, a gathering of about 1,000 United Methodist clergy and laity in Oklahoma City. Only once a year is a concentrated group of United Methodists gathered together on this scale in Oklahoma City. While many come from areas affected by tornado activity the past week, the majority come from areas not affected by the tornadoes.
The theme is Mission:Possible for the week with a thumbprint through the “im” part of “im-possible.” Clearly a reflection on the can-do attitude of United Methodism in Oklahoma that we are known for in our mission, ministry, and work together. I’m a member of the Oklahoma conference (serving in Portland, Oregon), so I’ll be in attendance and I’m looking forward to a great few days to be in fellowship and be inspired on our mission together.
But on reflection to that term “mission” my musing today is this:
Wouldn’t it be truly missional
to cancel Annual Conference entirely for one day
and send the delegates out to do relief efforts?
I’m quite serious about this. A week after the storms, we will have just under 1,000 people sitting less than 15 miles away from Moore, the site of much devastation this past week. Such a ready base of helpful and hospitable Methodists is too good an opportunity to pass up!
And the amazing thing? We are already halfway there!
OK has mission opportunities for the afternoon on Wednesday on the schedule to visit a dozen sites and do mission work in the Oklahoma City area. So really all I’m asking is for Wednesday all day to be dedicated toward relief efforts (and we can gather for the Ordination service that night as evening light fades).
I’ve thought of some limitations to this idea and here’s some responses to those concerns:
- Disaster Response is for professionals: While everyone wants to drop everything and self-deploy themselves with a hammer to a disaster situation, the truth is that fewer trained professionals can do more work safer. This applies to the first 72 hours of a relief effort. However, after that time window and avenues of support have been created, then untrained volunteers can do the grunt work of cleaning, clearing, and hauling debris away. For the able-bodied delegates, being told where to go and clean up is a reasonable effort.
- Physical Abilities: Annual Conference delegates tend to be senior adults. While there’s good numbers of young adults chosen as delegates (from my own church, our delegates for 2 outta 3 years were both under 30), some senior adults may not have the physical abilities to do recovery work. However they can line the street leading into Moore and pray. Or wander the depot sites praying with folks.
- Pre-registrations: The Annual Conference had planned to spread out and visit almost a dozen sites on Wednesday afternoon. Certainly those ministries would be disappointed if the Methodists didn’t come. However, everyone is in adapting mode right now and it would be my guess that the help needs to be funneled towards the Tornado victims.
I will readily admit that those three limitations fall far short of the biggest one: People love to give presentations. That Wednesday morning session is dedicated to hearing reports from the various ministry areas, many of which I love to hear from (CJAMM!!!).
But wouldn’t it be great–leading the church–if some of the more administrative areas might elect to do theirs as a video or written report instead of taking up conference time? Giving up their podium so that we might serve others? Giving up the moment in the limelight–and I’ve twice stood in front of OK Annual Conference at that podium, I know how it feels–is a hard choice to make, but one I’m confident if given the opportunity that the space would be made.
Keep in mind: I am one of those hapless people that loves Annual Conference. I love connectionalism (and promote it fiercely on this blog) and these times together are rare and precious indeed. But I worry that if we are simply talking the talk and not walking the walk that it will leave many Methodists (and many outsiders) with a question as to whether we can walk and talk at the same time.
Feel free to pass onto the Annual Conference leadership and be in prayer for them as they seek to address this disaster situation in faithful ways.
- Visit UMCOR for ways to volunteer and support.
- Text ‘RESPONSE’ to 80888 to give $10 to the United Methodist Committee on Relief.