Troy Annual Conference was called to order last night at 7 p.m., but that was not where it started.
I arrived (later than I had hoped) at around 11 a.m. to help set up with the worship team and the communications team, and generally settle in and talk to my friends and colleagues. One of the things I love and will dearly miss about my little Conference when we merge with another (or others), is that I feel like I know so many people. I don’t mean that in a sort of small-town we-should-be-insular way, but I’m relatively new here (six years) and every time I turn around there’s someone I know, someone who wants to greet me, give me a hug, someone who will literally cross the street to say hello to me.
This is my church. I don’t get to be a member of a local church; I’m a (probationary) member of Troy Annual Conference, and this is my church home. For four days, I’m immersed in my church home.
As a last minute stand-in for a reader who didn’t show, I took the stage with the worship leaders last night (oh no! I’m in a knee-length skirt for an hour and a half in front of 600 people and I didn’t shave my legs!), and read a selection from Acts 2 while my mother-in-law interpreted in American Sign Language. I couldn’t see my other handiwork from the stage (the visual liturgy I’d put together– I really wanted to make sure the contrast, font, and size was working from the back of the room), but the service seemed to go very well. It was marred for Mom and I by a personal concern (about which I’m not going to talk just yet), which made it that much more poignant and meaningful in a lot of ways.
Later in the service, I was one of the people serving communion. Our station had a huge, twisting line, and even without looking at the name tags, I knew about half of the people in the line (including every DS except mine) by name. As each person came forward and I tore a lagre piece from the loaf, held it up, looked in their eyes and called them by name, I said, the bread of life, broken for you, and felt more moved with each person. By the end of the line, goosebumps had broken out on my arms, and I shivered as I placed the last piece of the bread in cupped hands. This is what ordination means to me: to serve my collegues (lay and clergy) as one of them, to bless and break and share the body until we all tingle with gooseflesh.
After the service, we went out to a bar, a tradition here at Troy, and usually my favorite part of the Conference– not because of the booze, sillies– because we take a place over, kick back, and laugh and dream and fellowship until they throw us out. I connected with some old friends and told stories with some new friends, and left the bar at midnight, still deeply engrossed in a conversation with a good friend, a District Superintendent and a man whom I deeply respect about the future of the church and “my generation”‘s hesitancy to enter ministry or indeed join churches.
As I reflected on it and thought, ah, my favorite part of Conference, a little memory of goosebumps flitted across the bare skin of my arm and I remembered that for me, for today, my highlight was not the fun and the conversation as it so often is. Today I worshipped in ways I so rarely get to do. Today I placed the Bread of Life in the hands of sisters and brothers and knew that God’s presence breathed between us.
Today, I was with my church.