June 13, 2012–Two weekends ago I attended the Annual Meeting of the Vermont Conference of the United Church of Christ, held at Vermont Technical College in Randolph, VT. I’ve been going to Vermont Conference Annual Meetings almost every year since I came to Bennington 17 years ago, so now I’m one of the “old ones.” When you’re new to a conference, just about every face is new to you. Then, as you become active in conference activities and have been around awhile, there are lots and lots of familiar faces. Now I find that there are fewer familiar faces, as my colleagues move on or retire, but still, I look forward to Annual Meeting to meet up with old friends, soak up the energy of new pastors and delegates, and observe the changes that have taken place over the years.
This year I was especially moved by the Conference preacher, the Rev. Da Vita McCallister, who’s the Associate Conference Minister for Youth and Young Adult Ministries in the Connecticut Conference. She referred to herself as a “BaptaPentacostalMethal of Christ,” explaining that she had been raised Baptist, discovered Pentecostalism, became Methodist, and finally found her true home in the United Church of Christ. I loved her fire and humor and insight, calling us to the joy that comes through and after lamentation.
Music for the conference was provided by Oikos, a wonderful jazz quartet led by the Rev. Cliff Aerie (who looks an awful lot like Paul Winter). Not only did they infuse energy and color into the hymns, but also loosened up our all-too-stiff New England bodies. I even got to sing with the Conference Choir and Oikos for the final worship service, which was a treat for me.
This year’s schedule was contracted into a day and a half, so the usual “Conference family” celebrations–of retirements, new pastors, ordinations, deaths– took place on the overhead screen. Still, I was moved to see the names and pictures of friends and loved ones lifted up, and none more so than that of my brother Bob, who retired last year and died 9 months later. I found myself feeling his absence deeply, as Annual Meeting was one of the few times in the year we would catch up with and be with each other. Grief is, indeed, a journey.
Annual Meeting renewed and confirmed “the ties that bind” for me, reminding me of the wider church of which we are a part and without which we would be so much less effective and faithful. None of us can do this on our own, but each of us has our own unique place in the Reign of God, which is both coming and now is upon us. We are all connected.