Gifts from the District Conference

By Penny McKown and Marti Foster

I would like to share with you some of the highlights of the NYAC Connecticut District Conference which Marti and I recently attended at Trinity UMC in Windsor, CT.  Because I had attended a Lay Servant/Lay Speaker class given by Pastor Bill Florin, I received a goodie bag with the physical gifts of a rose, certificate signed by the District Superintendent, coffee mug, and District Directory.  More importantly, I came away from the District Conference with the blessings of spiritual gifts which have inspired and motivated me on my faith journey.  I urge you all to attend District events so that you too might enjoy these abundant blessings.

Upon entering the sanctuary at Trinity UMC, I began to recognize people whom I had encountered at various District and Cooperative Parish events and trainings.  I felt a warm sense of community and belonging.  These people were my extended church family.  During Rev. Sylvester’s opening remarks, he suggested that we recognize the importance of our attendance at the conference and that we all blow a kiss to Jesus.  He also urged us to go beyond our own comfort levels to step out in faith, embracing evangelism to make disciples for Jesus.

The next gift I received was the words of wisdom contained in the Keynote address given by the renowned educator, author, and theologian Dr. Leonard Sweet.  For the sake of brevity, I will tell you only about the portion of Dr. Sweet’s presentation that dealt with evangelism.  He noted that Jesus, as the great Communicator, powerfully spoke in stories, relying on narrative and metaphor.

Dr. Sweet told us that we must offer something fresh and new, something that people want to be a part of, to attract people to church.  He then advised that we show caring and interest to people by inviting them to tell us their stories.  Once we have heard the person’s story, it is important to restate the story to demonstrate our understanding.  Then we might tell a parable (Dr. Sweet’s example was the story of Jesus’s healing of the paralyzed man) to the person.  Dr. Sweet spoke of his practice of “nudge” evangelism, just lovingly giving a little bit of Jesus’s kindness, concern, and caring to everyone.

I left the District Conference eager to attend other events which would help me to learn and to make connections with other Methodists.  The District Conference also helped me to prepare for the Annual Conference which I will attend in June in Stamford.  By participating in this event, I found the gifts of inspiration, camaraderie, and motivation to pursue a certificate in being a Lay Servant.  Please consider how your attending this type of event could bring similar gifts to you and to our church.

Here are Marti’s thoughts on the experience of attending the conference:

I was impressed by Dr. Sweet’s story of his religious journey.  At the age of 13, he was asked to be organist at his church as the previous one left the church suddenly.  He continued in that role until his late teens.  One day, he had a strange experience while playing the organ when a very religious person put her hands on him and said she felt his power.  He reacted very negatively to the experience and swore off religion for several years.  Later on, in his late 20’s, he had an extremely positive religious experience with another person and has been an avowed Methodist ever since.  I was struck by the abrupt changes in his relationship to faith and that such a religious person had been an Atheist for a long time.

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