This past week I attended our denomination's Annual Conference. This is the one time a year that all the clergy in the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church gather to discuss the business, ministry, and opportunities for our church. We spend time hearing reports from all of the different ministry teams. We go over the finances of our Conference. We also have time devoted to worship; such as our Service of Licensing, Commissioning, and Ordination where clergy are blessed and consecrated for their respective roles within our denomination. This entire conference is a special time but also a very important time. While some of the reports, and a bit of the business, can be a tad mundane at times, I truly do look forward to Annual Conference each year.
However, there is one aspect of Annual Conference that I enjoy heads and shoulders above the rest. Reunion. I enjoy this time where I can re-connect and visit with those persons I only get to see this one time a year. Whether it be pastors from my home church or laity from the churches Debbie and I have served or pastors I have had the privilege of getting to know through my various responsibilities within the Conference, I truly enjoy this time. Now you need to understand that there are in the neighborhood of 1,000 to 1,500 people attending Annual Conference each year. Therefore, the opportunity for you to “run into” a familiar face is always there. And each time you do it is the same thing, the eyes get big, the arms go out, and hugs and laughter are exchanged. I am sure each of you know the feeling of seeing those people you care about after a prolonged period of time.
This year though, I experienced something I had never felt in my previous trips to Annual Conference. Gratitude. As I looked through that hall at the Tampa Convention Center, across all of those faces that I knew and loved, a feeling of thanksgiving washed over me. I could see how each of them played a role in making me who I am today. The lessons they taught me, the example they provided for me, the loved they showed me. Each person in their own way, large and small, significant and minor, played a role in my spiritual formation. Through those lessons, living examples, and love, they showed me what it meant to have faith in God, believe in Jesus, and trust the Holy Spirit.
The author of Hebrews show us the value of those types of people. In chapter 11 we read about all the heroes of faith and how they persevered in their faith, in what we call the Hall of Heroes. We read about Abel, Enoch, and Noah, Abraham, Moses, and all of the others. We are shown how these people are true examples of what it means to have “faith in the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 NRSV). We are given specific examples of what it means to place our faith in God, believe in Jesus, and trust the Holy Spirit and how God blessed each of them for their acts of faith.
I encourage you to take a moment and think back to those people that played a role in your spiritual formation; large and small, significant and minor. Thank God for them. If you have the time, and if it is possible, I would encourage you to send them a note and thank them personally. We have all had examples of faithful people in our lives that helped model and shape who we have grown to become. Let us never forget those people. Let us never cease to thank God for those people. Let us never stop thanking them for helping us become closer to God our Creator.
Love God, love each other, and treat each other well!