Dear South East District Friends:
In the fall of 1999 I experienced my first charge conference as a pastor. I prepared “the packet” and made the copies. I worked with nominations and the budget team. Our lay people tried to tell me what to expect when the “DS comes to town.” (This is back in the day when the superintendent came to each church for individual charge conferences.) I remember the fellowship hall where we met, the DS who presided and a feeling of great responsibility and excitement as we reported on the year past and dreamed toward the year ahead.
In that charge conference a fairly grumpy church member sitting in the back of the room raised her hand when the DS asked people to share joys and concerns. She said, “I have a joy! Two weeks ago our pastor was on vacation and our Lay Leader gave the message. It was nice to have a man back in the pulpit.” Ouch. That hurt. It still hurts today as I type the words.
It wasn’t an entirely unexpected comment. She and her husband were unhappy people and my arrival at the church was a part of their unhappiness. It was hard for me, and the rest of the congregation, to hear this kind of comment spoken out loud with a visitor in the room. People were embarrassed. I don’t remember feeling embarrassed but, as I said earlier, hurt. I loved this church – my first appointment! – and was so happy to be their pastor. And, of course, there wasn’t anything I could do about being a woman.
It has been a reminder to me ever since that first charge conference that church meetings can be full of anxiety, challenge and tension. People are human. Often times people bring more of their anxiety and anger to church meetings than anywhere else in their lives. This is hard.
We begin our season of charge conferences now. The format is different (and doesn’t provide much opportunity for complaints!) and our focus will be on our life together and our mission and values as a conference. This is not to dismiss the anxiety and challenges that are also present in our life together. Yet, we point to God’s amazing abundance of love and joy to inspire and strengthen our ministries and our respective duties within those ministries.
Perhaps you are wondering how my DS responded to the comment from the woman in the back of the room during my first charge conference. His response has stuck with me through my whole ministry. He said, “You know, it is so interesting, isn’t it? God appears to be raising up all kinds of persons for ministry, and there seem to be fewer and fewer men hearing a call or responding to that call from God. Are your sons and grandsons pursuing a call to ministry? Mine are not. Thank God for Cynthia’s call and the many other women who are hearing God’s call to lead our churches. I’m not sure where we would be without them.”
My prayer is that as your superintendent, lay and clergy alike will hear from me an equally affirming message of the power of God’s call on our lives and the varieties of gifts we all bring to leadership in the church. We are all gifts to God’s kingdom and I am so grateful to serve among you. See you at charge conferences!
Grace and peace,