By John Lomperis (@JohnLomperis)
Notwithstanding encouraging long-term trends about the global direction of our denomination, evangelical United Methodists may sometimes feel discouraged over the heresies plaguing the UMC and lonely from a dearth of connections to more like-minded United Methodist believers beyond their local church.
Thus, an important need is met through the annual conference evangelical breakfast, lunch, or dinner banquets held across the country every year in May and June. These events are organized by local renewal groups based in many of the United Methodist Church’s five dozen annual conferences (the basic geographic division in our denomination) in the United States. While these annual conference renewal groups have no formal, organizational connection to IRD/UMAction, they share our broad goals of spiritual renewal and promotion of biblical, Wesleyan orthodoxy within our denomination.
Such evangelical banquets are not part of the official agenda, but take place in conjunction with the two-to-four-day spring business sessions of the annual conference attended by all of the clergy and lay representatives from every congregation. Most attendees are annual conference delegates, though anyone is welcome to attend.
IRD President Mark Tooley and I recently had the joy of attending several such annual conference evangelical banquets.
The Illinois-Great Rivers Conference encompasses most of Illinois. Its annual evangelical dinner packed the room with friendly people from across the state, who got to informally meet each other and share about the ministries of their local churches. The speaker was the Rev. Jim Slone, senior pastor of the second-highest-attendance congregation in the conference. While asked to speak on “what works for evangelicals” in ministry, he refreshingly shifted the focus away from human techniques to stressing the importance of faithfully preaching the pure word of God and relying on the Holy Spirit to lead people to respond to the Truth to which they were designed to respond.
The Northern Illinois Conference encompasses the northern band of the state (including Chicago) and is one of United Methodism’s most notoriously theologically radicalized, rapidly shrinking conferences outside of the Western Jurisdiction. The speaker for the Northern Illinois Conference Evangelical Association (NICEA) dinner was our friend, the Rev. Tom Lambrecht, a United Methodist pastor who now works as Vice President and General Manager of Good News. He stressed that the main problems facing our denomination are spiritual and doctrinal, rather than structural or programmatic, urging orthodox United Methodists to start working now to develop the networks to be ready to eventually lead even such a liberalized conference as our denomination turns around.
A couple of weeks after I saw Tom speak in Northern Illinois, Mark Tooley saw him address the Evangelical Fellowship of Virginia, as Mark reports here.
I was invited to speak at the lunch of Cal-Pac Renewal in the California-Pacific Annual Conference. My speech, which you can read here, urged recovery of an evangelical Methodist identity by making our churches more (1) biblically grounded, (2) cross-centered, (3) conversion-oriented, (4) thoughtfully active, and (5) renewed in devotion to Wesley’s often-ignored teachings about Christian perfection.
These evangelical annual conference banquets offer a much clearer articulation of the spiritual challenges facing our denomination than what is generally heard in official conference gatherings. They offer invaluable encouragement to orthodox United Methodists. They present exciting visions for how all of us can get to work in renewing and reforming the United Methodist Church, beginning with our local congregations. And they provide a place where you can get to meet other United Methodists from your area who share your hopes and concerns for our denomination.
Whether or not you are a delegate, it is worth making the time to drive to the evangelical annual conference banquet near you next year.
Here is a non-comprehensive list of the websites of some annual-conference-level renewal groups hosting annual conference breakfasts, lunches, or dinners:
North Central Jurisdiction
Northern Illinois Conference – Northern Illinois Conference Evangelical Association (NICEA)
Indiana Conference – Indiana Conference Confessing Movement
Iowa Conference – REVIVE! / Methodist Laity Reform Movement
East Ohio Conference – East Ohio Evangelical Fellowship
West Ohio Conference – Evangelical Fellowship of West Ohio
New England Conference – Evangelical Renewal Fellowship (ERF)
New York Conference (NYC metro area) – Wesley Fellowship
Upper New York Conference – Renewal & Evangelism in Upper New York (REUNY)
Eastern Pennsylvania Conference – Eastern Pennsylvania Evangelical Connection
Western Pennsylvania Conference – WPA Evangelical Connection
Florida Conference (excludes panhandle) – Florida United Methodist Evangelicals (FLUME)
Mississippi Conference – Mississippi Fellowship of United Methodist Evangelicals (MSFUME)
Western North Carolina Conference – Western North Carolina Conference Evangelical Movement (WNCCEM)
Virginia Conference – Evangelical Fellowship
South Central Jurisdiction
Southwest Texas / Rio Grande Conferences – Methodist Renewal Movement
California-Pacific Conference (Southern California + U.S. Pacific islands) – Cal-Pac Renewal
Check your local congregation’s page here to confirm with which annual conference it is affiliated.
There are many other evangelical annual conference banquets besides those sponsored by the groups listed above. If you are interested in seeing if there is an evangelical annual conference banquet near you (or may be interested in helping organize one), please email me.