Why do we have annual conference? I spoke with Rev. Bob Burkhart, Interim Assistant to the Bishop for Administration to ask him that very question, along with what can we expect and what it means to him. Here’s our conversation…
-Dr. Arthur McClanahan
The 2018 Annual Conference begins this Friday. What is an annual conference?
Bob: Annual Conference is a long tradition, going back to Rev. John Wesley, (the founder of the Methodist experience). In Wesley’s time it was clergy coming together with John Wesley, and others, to confer. They probably did more preaching and conferring than legislation.
The annual conferences that I’ve been a part of have been conferring, worshipping, doing ministry legislation, a lot of singing and praying and teaching. The teaching is designed to help people take what they have learned and take it back to their local churches, hopefully, to make a difference in the ministry that they’re doing.
And annual conference is an opportunity when we sing, “And Are We Yet Alive “to say, “gosh, it’s good to see you.”
Clergy are required to be there and laity, hopefully, will want to be there.
Click here to listen to the conversation with Rev. Bob Burkhart
Are there some essentials that happen in every annual conference session, regardless whether it Iowa or Michigan or New York or Germany?
Bob: Yes. First, there’s the clergy or executive session that is held sometime within the bounds of that gathering. It deals with ministerial credentials and approving people for different stages of ministry, even if it means retirement. Another essential is, if it’s a year in which we’re working our way up to the General Conference, the lay and clergy delegates are elected. If there are constitutional amendments that come out of the General Conference, they they’re voted on at the next annual conference. Elections take place for Conference-level boards and agencies, and some district boards. If the annual conference wants to make statements about various concerns, then resolutions could be discussed and voted on. The ordering service recognizes graduates of the course of study, commissions, and ordains. This service doesn't have to happen at the annual conference; like some other conferences, Iowa used to have ordination services at local churches, which is something up to the bishop. The last time that that happened in Iowa was in 1975, otherwise, the ordering service has taken place during the annual conference session.
Budgets and approval for health insurance for clergy are also voted on during the annual conference session. The Foundation also has its meeting during the annual conference because the conference members are considered members of the Foundation board.
There is currently one Annual Conference in the State of Iowa but there were originally more.
Bob: I was just barely on the scene when North Iowa and South Iowa and the Evangelical United Brethren Conferences came together.
Now we have one Conference that meets yearly, hence the name “Annual Conference.” And that represents all the United Methodist communities within the State of Iowa.
Do you have a favorite annual conference or some memorable meaningful experiences that come to mind?
Bob: Yes, my ordination. It was kind of an overwhelming experience. I was so new at everything and wasn’t sure what was going on. It was a holy moment.
One of the most memorable annual conferences occurred when Bishop Thomas was completing his eighth year. A petition started going around the state requesting that Bishop Thomas return for a third quadrennium (a third 4-year term). They were on 8.5” x 11” sheets of paper. They were taped together and in a scroll. This happened in the old Vets Auditorium. There were so many of them that they went around the outside of the auditorium twice! Bishop Thomas got very emotional. We were all singing, “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” Well, they listened to us and they brought him back!