Grief, Joy, Hope and all the Feels

Like many of you, I have just returned from the Annual Conference session of the Rio Texas Conference. It was great to see lots of old friends, and to meet some new ones.

This annual conference felt like a homecoming, as we returned to Corpus Christi for the first time since 2019. Corpus Christi was home to the Southwest Texas and Rio Texas conference meetings for almost thirty years. I remember taking our kids with us to annual conference. Maggie and Patrick attended the conference child-care/day camp at First UMC for several years until they aged out.

Maggie is a young adult now and still attends annual conference as a delegate for her church, or for the Capital District. One of my favorite annual conference traditions is my early morning breakfast with Maggie at the flagship Whataburger on Shoreline Blvd. (No. 21 with sausage and cheese – no egg – Whatameal combo with coffee.) [Side note: Why did Whataburger stop offering the jalapeno cheddar biscuits? So good!]

Because I officially retired in 2022, I wasn’t sure if I would attend annual conference this year. But then my appointment in November as your interim DS took the decision out of my hands. And I am very glad it did. It was a joy to walk the floor of annual conference, to worship together, to do the business of the conference, to shake hands and hug so many friends all across the conference, to sing in the clergy choir, and to represent the Capital District.

A unique component of annual conference this year was, of course, our shared grief about the congregations and colleagues who are choosing to depart from our church. My own grief was palpable. There are churches I’ve served and loved, and clergy colleagues, that I may never see again – certainly not in the same way. Our grief is real, and we need to grieve well; but God will not leave us there. God will raise us up to new mission and ministry.

I can honestly say that I left this annual conference feeling more hopeful than I have in a long time. The United Methodist Church is smaller but not diminished, and I thank God for that.

On the final morning of annual conference, I took a long, slow walk encircling most of the conference floor. I was intentionally taking it all in. I stopped and waved, smiled, shook hands, and hugged several familiar people – no, not familiar, but familial. The Rio Texas Conference is my family. That’s the reason that this was probably not my final annual conference session to attend. I’ll be back. I’ll have a different role, and almost no responsibility. It will be weird, but good.

Blessings and Peace,