For many of us who did not grow up as Methodists the term “annual conference” in the Methodist church is confusing…
When you hear the term “annual conference,” it could be referring to any one of three things. The annual conference is a regional body, an organizational unit AND a yearly meeting.
Many of these yearly meetings happen in the U.S. in May and June. The United Methodist Neighborhood Centers of Memphis was one of 39 United Methodist-related organizations to have exhibits and displays at the 2014 Memphis Annual Conference, June 1-4 in Paducah, Ky.
Let’s sort out the differences:
Annual Conference as a “Regional Body”
The annual (sometimes referred to as ‘regional’) conference is described by the church’s Book of Discipline as the “basic unit” of the church.
In the United States, an annual conference may cover an entire state, only part of the state, or even parts of two or more states. There are also three missionary conferences in the United States, which rely upon the denomination as a whole for funding.
The United States has 57 annual conferences, supervised by 46 bishops. There are 76 annual conferences in Africa, Europe, and the Philippines, which are supervised by 20 bishops.
Annual Conference as a “Organizational body”
In the U.S., the annual conference has a central office and professional staff that coordinate and conduct ministry and the business of the conference. It likely has a director of connectional ministries, treasurer, directors of program areas (such as camping), communications director, and other staff as deemed appropriate for the annual conference and as required by the Book of Discipline. Clergy and laypersons may also serve on conference boards, commissions and committees.
Annual Conference as a “Yearly Meeting”
Each year all clergy members and an equal number of lay members selected from the local churches attend their conference’s Annual Conference session meet together to worship, fellowship, and conduct the business of the conference, which may last 3-5 days. During these sessions, members of the conference hear reports of past and ongoing work; adopt future goals, programs and budgets; ordain clergy members as deacons and elders; and elect delegates to Jurisdictional and General Conferences (every 4 years). The bishop presides over these meetings.
UMNC display board at Memphis Annual Conference 2014.
Our table was front and center as you walked in the front doors of the Paducah Convention Center next to the United Methodist Men’s table. As a refreshing break this year Rev. Porterfield had a chance to sit back and listen to his colleagues take the lead on stage. He enjoyed some time for fellowship with other clergy and lay people from the conference.
Here is Bishop McAlilly of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences with Bishop Unda Yemba Gabriel of the East Congo Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church and Rev. Bill Lovell of Nashville, Tenn., retired elder from the Tennessee Conference, who served as Bishop Yemba’s translator.