Last year’s Annual Conference was a whirlwind. I had just gotten back from a week long mission trip with some senior high youth. I was being commissioned which meant all kinds of obligations as to where I needed to be when and dressed a certain way. My family rented a house for us to stay together and a friend traveled all the way across the state to be with us that week. It was a crazy wonderful but busy and emotional experience.

This year nothing super fancy was supposed to happen. I volunteered to help serve communion at the opening worship service and I had two lunches I planned to attend (my undergraduate institution’s luncheon and the Order of the Deacons luncheon). My Residency in Ordained Ministry (RIOM) group planned to get together one evening for dinner. But other than that…nothing really extraordinary planned.

I sit here two days after leaving annual conference both exhausted and full. Full because I enjoyed fellowship, worship, networking, business, and God’s glorious creation until I couldn’t stay awake any longer…each night. Exhausted because I spent a lot of time with friends, both new and old, and because I did not sleep much.

I stayed in a house with people whom I had never met before. I connected with former church members and colleagues, made new friends with people standing in line for various things, and spent precious time with friends whom I love dearly. My RIOM group dinner was full of laughter and joy and catching up in *real life* since I only usually connect with them via FaceTime. At the Deacon luncheon Deacons from all over the conference shared about their various ministries of compassion and justice. I celebrated with Pfeiffer as they marked twenty-five years of a wonderful Masters in Christian Education//Practical Ministry program. I even won a sweatshirt blanket!

Assisting with communion was a real blessing. To say, “the blood of Christ, shed for you” to strangers and some acquaintances…to the diverse group of faces that came before us…was truly humbling and exciting.

I tweeted quite a bit when my phone was with me and charged. I connected with strangers and made some new friends through social media. In being bothered by something that someone tweeted, I met with the person (worshiped with him, actually) and expressed my concern. We shared and listened to one another and agreed that God’s grace is bigger than any disagreement and that we both hoped we (and people in general) could still be in ministry together despite different callings and theological frameworks.

The business was enjoyable for the most part. Hearing various ministry reports was encouraging and inspiring (especially the United Methodist Women’s report). It was nice to experience people asking good questions to clarify what we were voting on, etc., and for the Bishop to share joys and concerns as we went along.

Worship was exciting and inspiring. I enjoyed the variety of musicians and genres of songs. There was one praise group in particular that I really liked because they had such a unique Jimmy Buffet meets bluegrass feel to songs that I knew but barely recognized because of the musical distinctiveness.

The weather was gorgeous. I missed the mountains so much that even the rain was beautiful. Walking around the hills to get from place to place was delightful, both in the sweaty sun and the cool breeze.

All in all, it was actually extraordinary; a truly delightful yet unexpected experience of love, grace, and connection with God and neighbor that is unlike many other experiences in life.

Praise God for safe travel, for spiritual renewal, for holy conferencing, and for the joy of connecting with strangers and friends.

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