Today I am heading to Annual Conference. In the Western North Carolina Conference, ever since Jesus was on earth, it was held in Lake Junaluska. Those of you outside the WNCC or SEJ should know that this is the mecca of Methodism in the southeast. It is a mountain escape with more retired clergy living on the hills than trees. It is a beautiful place and does some great ministry and offers wonderful retreats to the South Eastern Jurisdiction. Think Dirty Dancing but for United Methodists!
What it doesn’t offer is a great Annual Conference. We meet in Stuart Auditorium. A 100 year old building that got wireless Internet before air conditioning. Last year they got air conditioning but instead of being hot, when they closed all the windows to try and keep the four holes pumping kinda cool air in, it felt being in a plastic bag. It seats 2000+, we have around 2500-3000 delegates. If you can do the math that leaves 500-1000 delegates without a seat.
Lake Junaluska offers par to sub-par accommodations. I am going to stay at the newest hotel, the Super 8. YEAH! [I have not ventured into the ‘renting a house for the week’ because I don’t have the money to spend on a vacation house for the week]. There are a handful of restaurants in the area, all the rest are fast food. Parking is horrible and I have walked almost a mile to from my parking spot to the auditorium.
Plus we waste a ton of time on this conference/vacation. The clergy session is on Wednesday night at 8:00 pm and it is over on Sunday after the worship. There is nothing on the schedule after 12:00 on Saturday and huge chunks of time for everyone to leave, get something to eat, and hike back. [although they have asked some restaurants to have some lunch options available on the grounds this year, so that may be nice]
There is move to move Annual Conference to a different location. Some where in the middle of the conference and a place that can provide better accommodations and meeting space. It is fought over every year and with a new bishop at the helm we will see.
My biggest concern is what meeting there represents. We are told by our leaders [bishops and district superintendents] that change has to happen in the local church. We, as a conference, are dropping in numbers in memberships because church refuse to change. Yet we as a conference refuse to change. Are we being good stewards of our money, resources, and time by meeting in Lake Junaluska? Or are we merely doing things how we always have been because that is what we have always been doing? If we are going to usher in a new age of United Methodism in the western part of North Carolina; if we are going to follow Jesus, make disciples, and transform the world; should we not do that by example and be willing to change on a conference level.
Yes, you are going to make people angry. There are tons of retirees who love to come off their porch and join in during conference. There are people who go up there for the whole week and enjoy making it a family vacation. But we have to look at the reason we are doing what we are doing and be willing to ask the question, can we do it better?
We have a new bishop presiding over his first AC in this conference. We will see how it goes and what becomes of it all. Until then, I’m in shorts, a polo shirt, and sandals. Pounding the water and caking on the deodorant, praying for cool weather and auditorium.