Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Eight Takeaways from the 2011 Ohio Conference Annual Gathering

This past weekend was the Ohio Conference Annual Gathering, held at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio. For the uninitiated, Conferences are large regional judicatories of the United Church of Christ. Many Conferences seemed to have their meetings this same weekend if my Facebook feed is to be believed. Anyway, here's a list of eight notable things about this year's gathering from my perspective:

1. It was my first time back at Heidelberg in a few years, and I loved the chance just to be back on campus. They're working on some great things such as a new dorm and commons that will include an on-campus pub. They also gutted the old cavernous science building and made it into a modern, non-cavernous, technologically-impressive business building. I was also impressed with the cafeteria, which is also more open and whose food seems to no longer suck. However, they have not yet renovated the dorm that I stayed in, and I got a horrible night's sleep. Still, this year being a decade since I graduated, there was something special about this trip for me and I was glad to be back.

2. The size of the gathering saddened me. I've been led to believe that there was a day when Seiberling Gymnasium was packed during plenary; when the bleachers had to be pulled out for people to sit on in addition to the seating on the floor. I have to imagine that at that time the campus was crawling with delegates, clergy, and youth and the place would feel "full." I would hazard a guess that there were maybe 200 people there at the most, and that's probably being generous. For what I believe is still the largest Conference in the UCC, that's definitely not great. But we're in an age where judicatory gatherings don't entice and energize people to come like they used to, and even as I recognize that and even get excited about the possibilities of this moment, it also made me wish to catch a glimpse of those glory days just to see what it was like. If nothing else, it helped me better understand churchpeople who constantly tell of all the things the church used to do but no longer can.

3. Tony Robinson was the keynote speaker at this event; he also led an afternoon-long workshop on Friday. Robinson writes and speaks extensively about revitalizing churches. He came to an Association meeting a few years ago, and it was the first time that I realized and was heartened by the fact that the UCC is talking about this cultural moment and what churches need to do. That said, I didn't hear a whole lot of new stuff. It's good to be reminded, but I didn't feel very invested.

4. In conjunction with that, I didn't feel like doing anything very quickly this weekend. I was late to that workshop, I wandered in and out of it several times, I was late to some of the Saturday stuff. There were stretches when I just wanted to wander around the campus or call Coffeewife or leisurely look at some Heidelberg thing. That isn't really a commentary on the event, I just felt like taking my time with everything and enjoying my physical location.

5. I had a very natural rapport with the current students who helped work the event. We joked around, especially after they discovered that my room was registered under my dad's name. We talked about college stuff such as Greek Life and the renovations. That was a cool thing.

6. I met Luke, he of Associated Luke, while I was there. I think we had a natural rapport as well as we talked about church, music, and Michigan, among other things. He seems to be doing awesome things in his church including coordinating a Pearl Jam worship service. It's always fun when an online acquaintance becomes a real-live one.

7. As mentioned, my room was registered under my dad's name. On top of that, my nametag (which did have the correct name and information about my church on it) said that I'm celebrating 40 years of ordination this year. Of course, it's my dad who is celebrating this milestone. He wasn't registered for this event, and he wasn't even in Ohio at the time, so I don't know what happened there. Nevertheless, I had a good laugh about it with others throughout the weekend. I'd even hoped that they'd have some sort of ordination recognition during plenary, at which point I was fully planning on standing up. Alas.

8. On the way home, I stopped by the cemetery where my college friend Darren was laid to rest. It's on the way, and I do this whenever I take this route. I had a realization while there, looking at the picture of him engraved onto the stone: I'm eight years older than when it happened, but in that picture he'll always be 26. It was quite the revelation in several ways: how long it's been, how much older I am, and how much older he'll never be. It was a sobering moment, to say the least.

So, that was my weekend with the Ohio Conference. A little reflection on church, a little rest and reflection, a little personal enjoyment and reminiscing.