Sunday, June 19, 2016

Annual Conference Adventures

We traveled to Orlando last Tuesday for the Annual Conference meeting of all the Florida UMC pastors and lay delegates. This year it was held at one of the Disney Springs hotels - The Buena Vista Palace. Our room was in a different building at the back of the property where they had bigger options for families. 

I had a meeting on Tuesday afternoon and afterwards we went over to Animal Kingdom for a little bit. This park is staying open later now so we enjoyed a couple of our favorite rides and then used a fastpass for seating to catch a new night show based on the movie Jungle Book. The music and dancing were wonderful and they are still tweaking some of the special effects in the background.  

For our meetings and business sessions on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning, we took the kids to Annual Conference childcare at St. Luke's UMC. They did an awesome job providing lots of opportunities for the kids to have fun. They got to go to the movie theater, an indoor trampoline place, play video games, play sports in the gym and more. This church is located in Windermere, very close to Universal Studios. They have folks in their congregation who work in all the various Orlando theme parks and entertainment venues. One of their members who is a Disney animator stopped by one afternoon to teach the kids how to sketch! 

Walking through the Expo and the Cokesbury bookstore one afternoon, I ran into a familiar face I knew from Seffner as a teenager. Diana and her husband sang in choir with my family (dad, grandparents and me) for many years. Her daughter and son-in-law were also Daryl's and my first youth group leaders. 

We had spectacular worship all week long with the Worship Band from First UMC Lakeland. 

The theme of the week was Lead Like Jesus and we used a lot of the plenary sessions to bring in speakers on leadership from a wide variety of places: Bishop Adam Richardson of the AME church who led the response to last year's Charleston shootings, Shaquille O'Neal's mom, Rev. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church in Chicago, plus Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of Texas and eff James from the Disney Leadership Institute (also a member of St. Luke's). 

We took the time to also lift up our episcopal nominee and her family in prayer. The elections for bishop will take place next month at Lake Junaluska in North Carolina. Our nominee is our current district superintendent, the Rev. Sue Haupert-Johnson and someone that Daryl and I have been privileged to know for almost twenty years as a mentor and colleague. 

We got to spend a little bit of time with friends and Daryl gathered his Residents in Ministry group together during coffee one morning at Starbucks. 

We continued our family tradition (3rd annual now) of running the Annual Conference 5k. This year's run was through some beautiful neighborhoods around Lake Butler in Windermere. Here we are as a family and then with the other clergy from the North Central District who participated. 

But one of our most significant memories from Annual Conference is the Prayer Vigil that we attended for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting that happened in Orlando, just two days before our conference began. We brought the boys with us because they have seen the news about the shooting and we wanted them to have that experience of gathering together and processing the events. There was singing and prayers, poetry readings and also a reading of all the victims' names as we raised our lights in the air. 

We are so thankful for the local Orlando UMC clergy and churches continuing their faithful work with members of the LGBT community by hosting blood drives and interfaith services, grief counseling and funeral support. Members of local UM churches also organized a counter-reponse to the Westboro protestors with the biker community in order to shield families at the funerals. In addition, our Bishops and Cabinet wrote a statement of response to the shootings which we approved and you can read about it here

As you can see it was a long and tiring week. We think this picture of Davis one night at dinner pretty well sums up how we all felt by the end! 

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