Reflections on Annual Conference — By Jo Anne Hayden (Conference Lay Leader)

When I reflect on previous Annual Conferences, I remember opportunities to personally connect with fellow members, many of whom I don’t get to see in person very often.  Through those connections I am updated with not only them and their lives, but also what is happening within their local church ministry setting.  

The continuing impact of the pandemic and our need to meet virtually frames this reflection while at the same time we expanded this year’s Annual Conference as we gathered as one episcopal area (with Pacific Northwest – PNW, and Oregon-Idaho – OI) for our opening and closing sessions and even shared a session with the PNW conference as we agreed to work in partnership as we more purposefully begin to live into being a Mission District of that conference prior to the completion of the multi-step process which we anticipate will confirm that change.  It is an exciting time as we jointly work toward creating something new and different.  

Through the joint/shared Great Northwest – GNW Annual Conference we all were gifted to some spirited music leadership from outside our area which allowed us in our virtual settings to sense the energy as we engaged in the opening and closing of our sessions, creating energy in our virtual setting.

Within the shared GNW opening session, the joint presentations from the three conference Lay Leaders, the six First Elects from all three conference delegations, as well as the message from our Bishop helped us connect with our conference theme “Love Never Ends” while also helping us not only consider our own conference issues, but also those of our episcopal area, jurisdiction, and denomination.  

Acknowledging where we gather and whose ancestral land it is that we are on continues to add important meaning for me each time we begin our meetings with that recognition.  My hope is to try to learn and more fully understand the full and complete history of the place we currently find ourselves and to be part of addressing appropriately the needed reparations that hold both value and meaning. 

Within our own session, I was very appreciative of the beautiful memorial service as we honored and remembered those from among us whom we’ve lost since we last gathered.  This has always been special to me as we reflect on the many ways these individuals have gifted us through their lives and witness.  

I found the video clips interspersed as filler throughout the virtual meeting an effective way to fill those transition pieces of time while also educating all of us on different ministries within our church.  I would like to be sure that all potential ministry areas are made aware of this opportunity for future gatherings so that even more can be prepared and made available for this kind of use and promotion within future gatherings.  

As the body gathers to do some of the administrative work of the church it is always helpful to be sure that enough information is shared with those tasked to take action through their decisions.  On every issue, the pertinent background information should be shared along with a proposed recommendation and the rationale behind that recommendation in order to help with providing access to important/relevant information.  In in-person gatherings it is easier to have conversation/discussion to supplement printed materials on such topics and though there are ways to accomplish that within the virtual environment, it doesn’t seem as natural and can be more challenging to accomplish.  

The Lay Member orientation that I held in addition to the area-wide Laity Session was an attempt to create some of that kind of space while also identifying key people who could be contacted prior to the start of our sessions for assisting with broadening our understanding as well as help answer any questions.

I’m excited to recognize all those who are in varying stages of preparing for ministry as they relate to our conference Professional Ministries Unit!

Additionally, I am grateful to all those who serve our conference in varying ways as reflected on the Nominations report.  The work of the conference happens in part thanks to the commitment of time and energy by all those listed there.  Thank You!

Our delegation engaged participants in responding to some of the content of current delegation conversations and extended an invitation to those who wanted to engage in continuing conversation.  

We also committed to help engage churches and ministries of the conference, as well as other faith communities in fostering an Alaskan discussion on nuclear disarmament and an Arctic Nuclear Weapons Free Zone.

Our sense of collaborating in ministry was also expanded with the joint creation of a Cross-Conference Vitality Commission.  

As we closed the Annual Conference in a shared session, we learned more about our sister conferences through the sharing of actions specific to each one.  

Our final celebratory piece was the ordination of Emily Carroll and the commissioning of Murray Crookes. 

It became clear to me that through collaborative work between clergy and laity as well as across conferences that even more can be accomplished. 

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