Meetings, meetings, meetings

I learned, after many years of attending meetings, to read a meeting schedule and find breaks or opportunities to step away from the busy pace. The Conference meeting had a full day yesterday, beginning with worship at 8:30 and continuing with a banquet that lasted until 9:30. Our campsite is about a half hour from the location where most of the day’s meetings were held and the evening banquet was another 15 or 20 minutes farther away. I’ve been on the committees planning events like this one several times and i understand the urge to over schedule activities. I also know, from experience, that many ministers are hungry for an audience. They can easily add 15 minutes or more to the allotted time when they get to the microphone just because they enjoy having such a large group. If you carefully tell them that their report must be limited to three sentences, most will add a 5-minute introduction and a 5-minute explanation to their report. A simple prayer of dedication at an offering, which is usually two or three sentences in our congregation can stretch to several minutes when the prayer is the only opportunity the person offering it has to be in front of the microphone. So meetings like yesterday’s rarely run on schedule.

All the same, if you have some experience, you can spot opportunities to leave the room or excuse yourself to get a bit of a break. Yesterday’s agenda included an unscheduled hour at the end of the business sessions followed by a social hour. I knew that the business session would run over due to the number of people who needed an audience, but I also knew that after the adoption of the budgets, the remaining business, which included elections with no nominations from the floor, so the outcome was unaffected by my vote, could be missed. And I knew that no one would miss me from a social hour. I’m not a big drinker and I’m no good at balancing a drink in one hand while trying to carry on a conversation in a crowded room where there are so many people talking that I have trouble hearing.

There was an opportunity to pay a visit to a family member of a member of our congregation so we ducked out of the end of the business session and left the meetings to pay the call. It was a delightful visit, just two couples, in their home and we wished that we had had more time.

Earlier in my career, I was worried about appearances. I wondered who would miss me if I skipped part of a meeting. I didn’t want to appear as if I was standoffish at a social hour. But these days, I don’t need to make impressions. I’m not gunning for any of the jobs in the conference. I don’t have anyone I need to impress. I know that there are many tasks of real ministry that go unnoticed, but are important.

For a person with a disabling disease who needs constant care and for that person’s caregiver, showing that the church cares about them, even if it is the church of a relative, can make a big difference in those persons’ day. For us, reminding ourselves that we are called to serve, and not called to make an impression on others by having clever words, was important.

One of the things that always surprises me about conference meetings is the number of retired pastors who can’t imagine ever missing one. They attend the meetings ever year long after the end of their active careers. These days, retirement can be a long time. We sat at table with a friend whose father was a minister who lived to the age of 100. He had retired at 65. That’s 35 years of retirement! He probably didn’t attend all of the conference meetings during his retirement, but even if he only attended 20, that would be a lot of meetings. When I contemplate my retirement, I think to myself that perhaps I would never again need to attend a conference meeting. I attend because the connections with my congregation are important. I don’t see it as a recreational activity.

At the meeting was a colleague who is on sabbatical this summer. I commented to him that I didn’t think of attending conference meetings as a sabbatical activity. He said, “Oh this isn’t work!” That’s the difference between him and me. I think that the meeting is really hard work. Visiting lonely folks, calling on the sick, planning and leading worship, and being a pastor are parts of my life that I love. I’d much rather do those things than attend meetings any day. On our sabbatical, we avoided meetings in favor of travel, prayer, reading and writing.

Not all pastors are alike, and that’s a good thing.

So for the members of my congregation who are reading this journal entry, I attended every worship service and business session of the meeting. I represented our congregation to the best of my ability. But I didn’t make any floor speeches. I didn’t address the assembled group and I didn’t extend the evening into the wee hours with my storytelling. I’ll save those things for another time and place. I did, however, find an opportunity to make a visit that extended care to the extended family of a member of our church. I did offer the love of Jesus to a family who sometimes feel a bit lonely and isolated from the community. I did pray with a caregiver who has extended herself as far as anyone could. I probably didn’t impress any of the people who were attending the meeting.

At the end of the evening, the person who was sitting next to me asked me about a colleague who was on the stage telling a story after having been visible in font of microphones several times earlier in the day, “Is he always this full of himself?” I smiled and responded, “Yeah, I used to be that way.”

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!