SL Annual Conference as Seen from My iPhone - Part 1


So for those of you that read my blog who are not United Methodist, let me explain.  Annual Conference is a gathering of all the pastors and lay leaders from every church within a specific regional area (called a Conference).  At AC we do the "business of the Conference", celebrate (aka hear reports on) the year's ministries, have grand worship services, vote on delegates for the global General Conference and resolutions for the local, conference, or global church, ordain new clergy and essentially just get together for the sake of getting together.  It is super life-giving and also crazy exhausting.  Completing an Annual Conference feels like an accomplishment every year.

I am a member of the Central Texas Conference and we have our AC in June.  So I feel like I JUST got done with one of these.  And then last Wednesday the Sierra Leone AC began.  And it turns out that it is just about exactly the same.  Here's some of the things that were just the same:

  • The afternoon lull

  • Confusion around voting

  • Everything takes longer than planned

  • I get ants in my pants about an hour in and feel the need to pace the back of the room

  • Trying to walk somewhere with someone who's been in the conference for a while takes five times as long as it should because they have to say hello to every person they haven't seen since last AC.

  • Bringing greetings (although the Sierra Leoneans take that to a WHOLE new level)

  • Chaos around who lines up where in the processional (they line up by date of ordination here, which was super cool!)

  • LONG days

  • An ordination service that moves me to my soul

Some of the stuff that was different:

  • Hundreds of people marching into insane city traffic to open annual conference

  • Representatives from a nearby AC who ask probing questions, make comparisons, and give praise/constructive criticism on the conference floor

  • Different groups have different colors and uniforms for different things

  • Women's Night, Youth and Young Adult Night, and a Children's talent show!

  • No place to drive thru for coffee or a dang sonic diet coke

  • Livestock that is brought to the church parking lot as a gift to the bishop

But don't take my word for it...check it out yourself:

Getting ready for the Opening March.  There were people representing every group in the AC--UMW, UMM, Young people, children, teachers, pastors, and also two separate marching bands.  Each in their own matching uniform.  I *may* have gotten excited, walked out following the band, and then had to be called back because the Bishop is the one who leads the march.  Hypothetically, that may have happened.

This is THE busiest area in Freetown.  I have to steal myself every time I go through there even if I'm not the one driving.  There are cars and pedestrians and motorcycles and vendors and buses and three-wheeled mini-cabs and sometime wheelchairs all vying for the same space on a road where no rules apply.  Pure stress.  But also it was so awesome.

Since the clergy were first in line (after the bishop), we got there first.  I had time to go onside, find my seat, take some selfies, and drink about half of a soda before I decided I needed to catch the end of the parade.  See all the different groups?!

Women's Night March on Thursday.  We wore black all day.  Even the visiting bishop from Germany, Bishop Rosemary Wenner showed up in black.  This UMW is the kind of UMW I want to be a part of.

Women's Night led by the UMW.  I think we in the US could use some of this energy.  And more dancing.  Why don't we do more dancing?

Bishop John K Yambasu is the real deal.  I cannot tell you how much I respect and enjoy him.  He's got gifts to spare, so much integrity, and he's great fun.  Also, as you can see, he's a sharp dresser.  Here he is leading a familiar song with guest Bishop Alstead from the Baltic Episcopal Area in Europe.

Every year children come from all over the country, stay overnight for their own activities during AC, and have a talent show where children perform by district.  I was the chief judge for the talent show.  Judging criteria included use of conference theme, uniformity, use of the stage, and audibility among other things.  Bo District took home the trophy.  Here is opening music.  Yes, those are children leading the singing.  Boy does the US church have a lot to learn from this place. 

This year, we borrowed a practice from Liberia and did a Bishop's appreciation.  I had something to present and expected it to be orderly presentations, but instead it was pure chaos.  This being the first year, they misjudged the time it would take and put it on the last worship service that also included ordination, a consecration of the UMU, and communion (a 4+ hour service).  The bishop had to get to the airport for a conference in Burundi so they kept trying to get them to quickly bring their gifts in, but the people were having none of that.  Each district came in singing and dancing in songs of their tribal language.  This one is Kono District.  They bring in rice and oil and household goods.  The goats stayed outside. And that thing that takes two hands to carry in and looks like a gigantic piece of ginger is...a yam.  They said next year they would plan a special service for the apprciation and I. Cannot. Wait. 

Katie Meek