God calls us to tell our story so that others may come to know Jesus Christ. “Hearts Strangely Warmed” was created to share these stories about tranformational encounters with the Living God.
In 2003 I attended my very first Annual Conference — then Central Pennsylvania Conference — as a rowdy delegate from Conference Council on Youth Ministries. CCYM, of course, was the precursor to the Young People’s Ministry Council; same energy, different name.
At age 16 I witnessed ordination for the first time. Bishop Neil Irons, intimidating yet saintly, laid hands on ordinands, spoke with grace of the fiery empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and — like many bishops before and after — consecrated a time of invitation and prayer for anyone discerning even the minutest call into ministry. With the snap of a worn-out light bulb filament, any vestige of resistance to God’s call in my own life snapped, snuffed under the sacred grace spoken through Bishop Irons.
Eleven years, countless mentor relationships, three bishops, two post-secondary schools, and one invigoratingly challenging provisional process later, the sanctity and power of conferencing together still washes over me.
Annual Conference is an inheritance from John Wesley’s conviction that the church is enlivened by holy conversation together. For this reason, I have yet to even remotely begrudge the yearly pilgrimage to Messiah College. Surrounded by colleagues, friends, counselors, all of the passionate, playful, imperfect-yet-purposeful people of God, I never pull out of College Avenue but that my heart too is warmed (though whether by the Holy Spirit or the catering department’s delectible enchiladas, I cannot discern). And sure, our gathering as the Susquehanna Conference is not without late-night resolution sessions and faint eye-glazing at budget recitations, but just like the mud on which Jesus spat, so the most healing of experiences may be mundane and messy.
Now, in 2014, Annual Conference seems a looking glass. Once surrounded by teenage peers, I stand side-by-side with a class of driven, inspired ordinands whose impact and dedication is surely immeasurable. In equal measure I am humbled to be joining so many: clergy and lay, extension ministers and local pastors, retirees and Generation Y, the planters, seekers, and truth-speakers that comprise this stunning slice of the City of God in the Susquehanna Conference. Consider of the words of a hymn often sung at the conclusion of holy conferencing: “We are standing on holy ground.” We have stood here before; many of us will return again. Surely the Christ who dwells in our hearts through faith has so consecrated even us.