Methodists are not known for their flowery language. Annual Conference is a conference that meets annually. After 1784, Annual Conferences were centered around places that people could travel to.
Annual Conferences are analogous to presbytery’s in the Presbyterian church, Synods in the Lutheran Church, conventions in the Baptist Church, and Dioceses in the Catholic Church. Geographically, they are similar, but in practice, Annual Conferences are much more central to the function of the United Methodist Church than any other denominations geographical divider.
As discussed earlier, UMC elders are itinerant, which means we are moved. The annual conference is the area in which an elder can be moved. As well, Elders and Deacons are not members of local churches, they are members of Annual Conferences. Each of the other churches in the conference matters to me both because a colleague is currently appointed there and also because I could be there soon.
As well, the annual conference is both the administrative unit of the regional church as a well as a literal conference that meets annually. Berkeley’s conference (Rio Texas) has been meeting for many years in Corpus Christi, TX. This year’s conference is being held June 6-9. Each church has lay delegates, lay alternates, and clergy delegates.
There are business sessions and teaching sessions at annual conference. The business session adopts the budget for the conference and any new policies that may need to be implemented. As well, every four years, delegates are chosen from Annual conference to go to the General Conference. The business side can be tedious with all the Robert’s Rules going on, but the amazing thing about it is that every delegate has a voice. Every church, no matter how small, has the right to stand and speak. The Bishop gets to appoint elders and committees, but they preside over Annual Conference, they cannot dictate it.
Annual Conference is also where new clergy are commissioned and ordained. The best part of annual conference is found here, in the worship of our Lord and the ordaining of new people for the commitment of ministry.
As Methodists, we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. Both geographically and generationally. There is a service at conference where both the retiring clergy and the new clergy are both recognized. We are a part of something bigger than ourselves. In times of challenge, it is wonderful to remember that.