An Annual Conference Reflection

Last week was a week that flew by so quickly.  Annual Conference 2017 was a major success, in my book, for a few reasons: over 2000 people, followers of Christ, came to the lake shore to grow in their faith, to share stories around the table, to enjoy fellowship with colleagues, to ‘debate’ how we move forward in growing disciples for the transformation of the world, and to worship the living God!  I am not saying this because I was on the worship design team, however, from all of the feedback, words of encouragement, and the words of gratitude, it can be concluded that the worship theme of “Go & Baptize The World” was well reflected in all aspects of holy conferencing and worship services.

From Thursday evening to Sunday morning, worship revolved around the gift, the beauty, and the sacrament of living water.  The flowing fabric that swayed back-and-forth from the fans high above Stuart Auditorium, gave glimpses of water flowing onto the stage, the altar, and the congregation.  The bubbling fountain that adorned the altar table resounded with the trickle of waters that spring forth new life that began at our baptism.  The changing colors of the LED lights helped to reflect the different colors of life: blue for the waters that flooded the earth, waters that parted ways, waters that Jesus felt upon his body, waters that continue to sustain us; green for the waters that bring for new birth, vegetation, and life after death; red for the waters of ordination and the dove that came forth upon Christ at his baptism, “When Jesus was baptized, he immediately came up out of the water. Heaven was

The altar of Closing Worship at The Western North Carolina Annual Conference 2017 lighted in purple.

opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting on him” (Matthew 3:16, CEB); purple for the waters of being sent forth in love, knowing the passion of Christ, preparation for Kingdom building, and sharing the love, grace, and embrace of God for us all.

This Annual Conference was especially special to me due to the fact of being a servant on the Annual Conference Worship Team.  Around 20 folks make us this team, and with that many people and minds, it can get quite overwhelming … we as human beings love our own opinion.  However, this group of 20, with calm heads, passionate hearts, and love of worship, came together to create and implement 10 complete acts of worship.  This is over 12 hours of worship opportunities over 3 days!  There were numerous behind the scenes hands that many in the conference never saw.  There were numerous folks rushing in the midst of the night to get last minute items to adorn the altar, or to fix something that was broken.  There were early mornings of playing the piano for a small group of prayer warriors.  There were celebrations: of life, of commissioning, of retirement, of ordination.  My friends, this is what Holy Conferencing is about, being in the midst of worship while at a conference, to know that the Holy Spirit is guiding every single aspect of decisions that are being made for the betterment of God’s Kingdom!

Congregants flooding the stage at Annual Conference 2017, following the Opening Worship Service.

Most of all, it is hearing and seeing the impact worship has had on the people of the Western North Carolina Conference.  None of us on the team were in this thing for our own glory; rather, we were in this thing to bring people to the presence of God … and it was done.  Following the Opening Worship, people were crowded around and on the stage to get picture of the altar and a piece of remarkable artwork that was started and finished during the offertory.  Stephanie Bell Burke used her gift for art and paint to lead us to Christ, to set the tone of Baptism for the entire conference.  This piece of art sent forth a gasp and/or a sigh of astonishment throughout the entire congregation; as what she had painted upside down, turned right side up … leading us to an amazing picture.

Stephanie Bell Burke’s artwork after … Photo courtesy of Rev. Josh Sherfey.

Stephanie Bell Burke artwork before … Photo courtesy of the WNCC Annual Conference Media Team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, for me, the greatest blessing I received was not me playing the organ and the piano (with great help from my friends and colleagues Rev. Anita Sain, and Rev. Saxon Scarborough), it was the blessing following the postlude.  Let me remind you of my words from the previous post about how it had been a dream of mind to play the organ at Annual Conference since I was in middle school, “We attended the many worship services, and I fell in love, again, with the sounds of the organ.  I yearned in my heart to play the Stuart Auditorium Allen Organ.  The mixtures, the reeds, the bass would feel the space.  I remember walking to the car following closing worship not wanting to get into the car until the last note of the postlude finished, as you could hear the melody spread throughout the Rose Walk.”  Following the last notes of my postlude during the Closing Worship of Annual Conference 2017, a young man walked up to me at the back steps of the stage leading to the organ console.  He said to me something I knew around his age, “Thank you for your music, it is a dream of mine to play this organ one day for Annual Conference.  I just started my studies, and one day maybe this dream will come true.”  I stood there dumbfounded … it was as if I was looking at myself; and I wasn’t sure what to say … what would I want said to me?  I thank this young man, congratulated him on his studies, told him this too had been a dream of mine, and told him to hold on to his dream that one day through whatever acts or circumstances, his dream, too, would come true!  This my friends, is the completion of God’s grace in this powerful act of being called into ministry through music, and through the grace-filled circumstances that led me to be at the console on Sunday … it needed to be done so another young man could one day share his grace-filled story as well.

Thanks be to God for Annual Conference 2017, and all my colleague and friends everywhere that made all things – with the help of God – possible.

ps- of course I have a video of me playing the opening hymn of the Closing Worship Service … thanks to Davis Patton for the video.

        

Grace & Peace,

Juston

 

Cover Photo: Photo Courtesy of the WNCC Annual Conference Media Team.