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2010 Missouri Annual Conference

June 4-7, 2010

"Growing Deeper" was the theme of the June 4-7 Missouri Annual Conference Session. The entire event focused on deepening one's spiritual life.

Everyone who attended received a copy of Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase's new book, "The Five Practices of Fruitful Living." This book takes the principles of the "Five Practices for Fruitful Congregations" and applies them to personal spiritual growth and development.

On Friday evening, the Missouri Conference gathered around the table for a family dinner. Bowls were passed and souls were shared, as people took a moment to share in a table of grace. The meal and meditation was led by Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher. Each individual table also had a person designated to lead discussion during the meal.

"We will sing, pray, have moments of silence and holy conversations," Christopher said.

The scripture for the meal was from Mark, Chapter 6, when the multitude was fed with five loaves and two fish. Christopher opened by reminding everyone that Jesus invited the poor, unclean, social outcasts to his table. It was a table open to everyone. He also often used meals during his teaching. "At the moment of his own death, during his final hours, he used a meal as metaphor for fruitful living," she said.

There were 19 different workshop opportunities at the conference. The Rev. Michael Slaughter, pastor of Gingshamburg United Methodist Church in Ohio led a time of learning and a workshop on moving your church outside of itself and into the world.

Slaughter spoke about changing the world, and he reminded people that the issue at hand is not how to get more people into the church, but rather how to get the church into the world.

"We can't re-engineer the mission. Jesus gave it to us," Slaughter said. "The first words out of his mouth after the resurrection were 'As the father has sent me, so I send you.' Jesus died to get the resources of heavens into the church. We need to get the church into the world." Slaughter's wife, Carolyn, led a workshop on growing members for mission.

Bishop Robert Hayes of the Oklahoma Area was the preacher for the service of ordination. He spoke about the words "membership" and "privileges," and how they are paired together obsessively in credit card and frequent flyer miles marketing.

Membership with privileges is an addictive kind of thing, Hayes said.

"We all want to belong to something special if we can get something out of it," he said. With Jesus, though, it's not about what's in it for you, it's about what's in you for him. Some churches that are losing membership have such low membership requirements that they end up with diluted disciples that are looking for something but give nothing, Hayes said. The fastest growing church in the Oklahoma Area, though, requires people to go through several weeks of classes that teach things like tithing, before they can become members.

Those who were about to become members in full connection would have the privilege of self-denial, and that self-denial is not just the opposite of self-fulfillment. "Self denial means living a life where you are no longer focused on yourself," he said

Eighteen elders and one deacon were ordained during the service, with an average age of 41.

The Bishop's Learning Time on Sunday morning focused on the Five Practices of Fruitful Living, "Think of the people who are your spiritual mentors. They've had a major influence on your life: pastors, teachers, relatives, friends...the spiritual giants. How did they become those people, those we say we want to grow into?" Schnase asked. "They did that through a series of patterns that put them in a place to receive God's grace. Grace is gift from God. But fruitful living is a way of putting in place methods of receiving grace."

The Rev. Emanuel Cleaver II, assistant to the bishop for African American Leadership Development, preached Monday morning.

Membership stands at 167,289 down 1,215 from the previous year. Worship stands at 81,574, down 727. Church School attendance stands at 30,356, down 219.

--Fred Koenig, Editor, Missouri Conference Publications