We start this year’s Annual Conference this coming Sunday, June 7. This year, for the first time in a long, long, time, the Central Texas Annual Conference will meet in a church, not in a convention center. We will not have assigned seats with name placards.
We will attend a Texas Ranger’s baseball game together Monday night.
Annual Conference sessions are designed to be very evenly divided between clergy and laity. The purpose is to balance the leadership between the clergy and the laity of the church.
This will be my 15th consecutive meeting of the Central Texas Annual Conference to attend, my 22nd overall (I began my ministry in the Texas Conference).
Most of the laity are selected by local churches, usually at the suggestion or nomination of the Pastor.
Pastors are, it seems, from one of two schools of thought on selecting laity for representation at Annual Conference:
1. In the interest of involving as many laity as possible, and giving them an opportunity to experience this level of church work, some clergy nominate different laity each year.
2. In the interest of developing particular and specific leadership on the laity “side of the aisle,” some clergy seek to involve particular individuals over as many consecutive years as possible.
This decision is not made entirely by clergy, however. My mom, for instance, used to serve as a Lay Member of Annual Conference for her church. After a few years of doing so, she opted not to return the next year so that another member of her congregation could go.
Here’s my take. I’ve been a clergy member for almost 2 decades. I’ve got another 2 decades. There are many clergy who have been active far longer than I have already.
It seems to me that if the revolving door of lay leadership turns much faster than that of clergy, the laity are likely not to gain an equal share of power, influence, and leadership in the Annual Conference.
This means the Annual Conference remains, ultimately, clergy-run. I am concerned that this means our ability as an Annual Conference to change and adapt as necessary to changing times, populations, and cultural shifts may be seriously lacking.
There is a move afoot in the United Methodist Church to attract and recruit young clergy. We are also making effort s to attract younger members – or laity.
What are we going to do about giving them a large stake in the leadership of the Church?