I have been accused of being a “glass half empty” kind of person. I remember my oldest child Bryan saying this in particular; 4As 2Bs on a report card was never good enough, why not 6As? Really? So much pressure. And while I am pretty sure I can pinpoint the “whys”, I know the whys don’t really justify the pressure and anxiety I likely created or the lack of positive affirmation for the accomplishments and the high achievement. It was as if the high achievement was nothing more than average; after all it’s what I expected.
Awareness doesn’t automatically result in change. In my report at Annual Meeting, I noted the number of congregations that I suspected are in danger of closing; I think I said 16. A number of people came up to me and asked if I thought their congregation was in that number. Then at the Conference Council Retreat a few weeks later, Council members were talking about the next few years, acknowledging this important time of transition and they were discussing a number of important challenges here; small congregations, our geography, shrinking dollars, busier lives for everyone, etc. And then one of the Council members said, “I love our Conference; this is a really good Conference”. And you know what, that is true, and it turned the tenor of the conversation; it didn’t negate the reality of the challenges, but it reshaped the tone of the discussion.
I often lift up the challenges as I don’t want us to be complacent or in denial about the reality and challenges that face us. And I don’t want to be complicit in allowing congregations to simply ignore hard questions. But I know that I have to find a better balance; I don’t want to forget to celebrate and to give thanks for who we are now, today because there is a lot to celebrate in who we are as the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference.
If you go back through the 3#Great Loves stories that Rachael Pryor gathered last year that we published in eNEWS and that were in the 2018 Annual Meeting book, you will get a snapshot of KO congregations. You will find story after story of congregations large and small living out their faith in ways that they feel called to serve in their particular setting. Our members and congregations are ministers of mercy and mission and are engaged in acts of justice that seek to change systems of inequity and disrupt the status quo. Both are needed; mission and mercy as people are needed to work in homeless shelters and soup kitchens and food banks and day care centers. And work for justice as systems need to be challenged to address the root causes that create economic injustice that end up creating the endless cycle we find ourselves in. In KO we have congregations that are serving in each and both of these ways.
KO has congregations that are deeply committed to nurturing children, congregations that have fabulous music programs and congregations that are focused on climate change and caring for creation. KO also has congregations that are Open and Affirming and welcomes all people. And as a newly elected member to the national Board of PFLAG I saw firsthand at the national convention in Kansas City how deeply wounded and alienated the lgbtq+ community is from the church and with good cause. We have a lot of work to do to convince the lgbtq+ community that they are welcome and safe in our congregations. We have congregations that are deeply committed to welcoming and advocating for immigrant populations in our community and to fighting white supremacy, congregations that serve those in jail or prison and the list goes on and on. Yes, we are a small Conference, but there’s a lot going on here.
And you are a generous Conference. You are generous in allowing me to serve here. Before it was accepted in many settings, you called me “home” as a Commissioned Minister, not ordained to serve as your Conference Minister. Now several Conferences have changed their bylaws removing the requirement that the Conference Minster be ordained; the latest to take this action is the new Southern New England Conference. You are generous in your trust of me to be a good steward of my time and your resources. Some conference ministers have to account for how they spend their time and have questions about the validity of their service beyond the Conference. I have never felt that; no one looks over my shoulder and questions if I am working enough or giving you my very best. I appreciate your commitment to my leadership in the wider church. And finally, you have stretched to have fair and just compensation. When dollars are tight there can be the tendency to expect the leadership to voluntarily sacrifice as “servant” leader. Any sacrifice I have made has been at my initiative; the Conference Council and you by passing an annual budget have been committed to fair and just compensation, a model for congregations that leaders are just like anyone else; we have responsibilities and deserve to be compensated for our work and ministry.
I don’t think this way of relating is just about me; I think it is more about who you are and your commitment to being in relationship with each other and with whomever is serving as your Conference Minister. I think it’s about mutual respect and accountability. Amazingly, I never intended to come back to Kansas, but as I think of all of the things I am deeply grateful for this Thanksgiving, at the top of the list is the opportunity to serve here; with and among you. Thanksgiving blessings to you and your family.