Monday, April 16, 2007

How to Conference Methodist-Style, Day One

Blogging on a near-daily basis was a great experience, even if demanding. So I’ve decided to try it again over the next two weeks, leading up to our second Annual Meeting (our equivalent to “Annual Conference”). During this time, I will simply try to give you a picture of my days, as I frantically prepare for the meeting!

Monday: Slogans for Jesus

Every good conference needs … a slogan. My Annual Conference back home in North Texas always had a motto for its gathering. The preachers always tried to stick to the theme, and there was always a new logo ready to adorn every piece of paper and plastic goodies bag.

I am a sucker for a good slogan, to tell you the truth. I was a journalism student in high school, and always fared well in headline writing. In fact, I competed in UIL state contests in headline writing, because I got pretty handy at composing pithy and witty lines.

While serving as a pastor in England, I once provoked the wrath of an aged British pastor for suggesting that he change the title of his presentation to something a little more … catchy. I think I even dared suggest that he try alliteration … Anyhow, he was not happy, and complained that “catchy titles” was an American preoccupation and was a sign of our decadence.

And over time, I have begun to agree with him. It’s true that, most times, slogans, mottoes, and logos are simply lame attempts to cover up the huge difference between the dream and the reality.

But still, a conference needs a slogan. Especially because Cameroonians LOVE slogans, too. And I have found that choosing the right phrase helps to set an ambiance, steer in a certain direction. It’s so important to me, that I pray that God will lead me to the right slogan.

Last year, Annual Meeting’s slogan was “Building Strong Foundations.” Not catchy or cute, I know, but it had meaning and purpose. And I think it worked, because the people talked about the UMC in those words for a long time after the meeting.

Drum roll now, as I unveil the 2007 Annual Meeting, United Methodist Church, Cameroon slogan ….

“Raising Up a Holy People.”

No, it’s also not exactly earth-shattering or daringly original. But it does encapsulate everything that I think needs to be communicated at the meeting.

First of all, I admit that I have cribbed the phrase “raising up” from the charismatic/Pentecostal movement. It’s not a phrase that Methodists commonly use. However, I like the way that it sounds in the African context, for it connotes a sense of uplifting and encouragement. The people of Cameroon often feel beaten-down and discouraged, victims of circumstance and despair. But the church of Jesus Christ is always supposed to be a place where people are “raised up.”

Second, I have managed to include that, oh-so-Methodist word, “holy.” This continues to be the word that resonates through all that we do, and the reason that we even bother to have such a thing as Annual Meeting. It’s simply a gathering for people who are struggling to be holy.

My prayer is that we will begin to put meaning and substance into this word during our conference together. And that the slogan will become ever closer to reality.