ARUMC Annual Conference 2017
I have enjoyed the wonderful privilege of being the Conference Worship Leader for the past 4 years at the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church (ARUMC), heading up one of the central worship services each year and kicking off each morning and business session with a few songs. Along with musicians from around the state, we get a unique vantage point of conference each year. Annual Conference is part church business, part church politics, but also part inspiration and spiritual renewal. Each church sends laity delegates alongside all clergy to attend to the business of the church. With some business sessions lasting hours on end debating issues big and small, it can be easy to lose sight of our shared calling: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And so, we come back together to inspire, to celebrate ministry, to ordain, to celebrate life, and to worship wherein my passion lyes.
Casey and I, with a handful of musicians who make up the house-band along with the vast army of folks who make up the tech crews, are among the first to arrive each morning and the last to leave each night. Conference can be both utterly exhausting and incredibly enriching at the same time. For my part this year, I was able to hand off a few duties that have fallen to me in the past. It made for a far less stressful week. That being said, I cannot recall being quite so nervous to lead a worship service in many years.
For the first time in Arkansas UMC history, we had an all contemporary/ancient-future Service of Ordination. I was given full reign over the music, communion liturgy, and prayers. The privilege was amazing. One I did not take lightly for I did not want this to be the last service of its kind at conference. Plus the joy of being part of Rev. Eric Meyer’s Ordination made it that much more special. So while, in the end, it was wonderful to team up with Eric, my wife Casey, long time friend Rev Jeanne Williams, Rev. Andrew Kjorlaug, and many others to put the service together, stepping on the stage Tuesday evening my stomach was churning. Whether in the theatre or in church, I have been performing for audiences and congregations regularly for nearly 30 years. Needless to say, the nerves caught off guard. As our piano player pointed out, my adrenaline was pumping and we took the first couple of songs a little fast. But as the night unfolded and we settled into worshipping together, I relaxed and took in the moments as much as I could.
One of my top two favorites from the evening was the beautifully written pastoral prayer which was interspersed with the song “Prayers of the People” by The Brilliance. It led right into our time of confession and assurance of forgiveness. It was a very peaceful moment. Though it didn’t last long, for it was quickly followed by my other favorite moment from the night. For the offering I chose a song by artist Ben Rector titled “Follow You.” Its a high energy piece that is simultaneously folky and soulful. Driven by mandolin and a barn stomping beat, backed with a blaring hammond B3 organ and a bluesy melody, its a song that is just so much fun to play. To look out as the song built, seeing the Bishop standing and clapping along with the beat, and hundreds of robed clergy and laity joining in the fray, it was just SO MUCH FUN!
While the work that is necessary to pull off conference each year can be long and tedious (and I may be known to complain), I always look forward to going back. Its a good tired I come home with. A tired that somehow fills me up to go forward. I am excited to return home and look forward to where we might go together in worship this coming year.
Grace and peace,
Ken Weatherford, Director of Worship Arts