On Friday the Indiana Annual Conference voted to approve the disaffiliations of 29 churches, including our congregation at Dayton United Methodist Church. Everything is now official, and the final step, to be completed this week, is the signing of the Disaffiliation Agreement and the sending in of the check for the disaffiliation fees. On July 1, we will no longer be a United Methodist Church.
So the 2022 session of the Indiana Annual Conference was my last as a United Methodist pastor. It was bittersweet, as you can imagine.
Some of you may not know that the polity of the United Methodist Church assigns the membership of its pastors to the Annual Conference, not to the congregation they are serving. I have not been a member of a local UM Church since 1978, when I was ordained and became a member of the Annual Conference. So my church only meets once a year!
That means the Annual Conference session each spring is more than a business meeting. It is a family reunion. At Annual Conference we get to see friends and colleagues we may not have seen in person in the entire year since our last session. We worship together, share meals, and have many, many conversations. As usual, it was a great joy to see friends and colleagues and to renew relationships built over the years.
Many of those relationships will continue apart from the church and into the new Global Methodist Church we are joining on July 1. Some of those relationships will disappear simply because we will no longer be part of the same church. The bittersweet feeling I felt leaving Annual Conference yesterday was something like the feeling I had when I graduated from High School. A chapter of my life is over. A new one is beginning. I can never recapture what is lost. I have great hope for what lies ahead.
I began preaching on Sundays in a United Methodist pulpit on the first Sunday of December, 1973. I was still a student at Taylor University, and was appointed as a student pastor to two small UM congregations northeast of Muncie. Fairview UMC and Bethel UMC. They were four miles apart. I would preach at Bethel (which on a good Sunday would have 18 in attendance) while Fairview had Sunday School. Then Shirley and I would jump in the car, drive the four miles to Fairview (which on a good Sunday would have 50 in attendance) and I would preach there while Bethel had Sunday School. We served these two small, loving congregations for three years while I commuted to seminary in Dayton, Ohio.
To add to the bittersweet, one of the congregations in the Annual Conference that permanently closed this year was Bethel.
So I have given 48 1/2 years of my vocational life to ministry in the United Methodist Church in Indiana. I was officially granted retirement by the vote of the Clergy Session of the Annual Conference on Thursday, so I retired in good standing with the Conference I have served as faithfully as I know how.
I have always known I am more theologically conservative than most of my UM colleagues. In some ways, I have not completely fit in. I have sometimes thought it would be better to find a closer fit denominationally. But God called me to the UMC, and He has never released me from serving the UMC - until now.
I am glad for the opportunity to attend one more Annual Conference, even if it is sort of a farewell tour. I got to see and talk to and hug colleagues and friends whom I will likely never see again. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to serve the great congregations where I have been deployed in the UMC in Indiana. I am thankful for the relationships of mutual love and respect.
Now, we turn to the future and seek to follow Jesus Christ into the new adventure of the church He is calling us to be. Yes, I think a graduation is a good analogy. Where do we go next, Lord? Great things lie ahead!