Bishop looks forward to holy gathering

June 06, 2019
By Alan Wild
The Kentucky Annual Conference will for the first time use electronic devices to record votes when clergy and lay delegates gather June 10-12 at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center in Covington.

Bishop Leonard Fairley said he is excited about Annual Conference for many reasons, including the introduction of electronic ballots. He has used them in the past at General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference and during his time serving in North Carolina, but this will be new for Kentucky.

One of the primary tasks of the gathering will be to elect delegates to the 2020 General Conference, set for next May in Minneapolis. Fairley said about 40 clergy and laity have filed paperwork to be considered delegates.

“I am looking forward to it and have been praying for each delegate who has sent in a profile,” the bishop said in an interview. There’s lots of interest in General Conference 2020, and “it’s exciting how the Holy Spirit is leading us.”

He’s also energized by the Annual Conference worship theme this year – “See the Possibilities: Holy Imagination.” It will be a three-day journey through the Lenten season, from the opening worship service (Ash Wednesday) to the closing service (Easter).

It’s an exciting time for fellowship, as well. Aside from the worship services and business sessions, the bishop enjoys spending three days hearing about glory sightings and seeing friends chatting and greeting each other in the hallway.

Fairley is also looking forward to preaching in the Opening Worship service. His sermon topic is “The Mark of Holiness” and will key on the Ash Wednesday theme. He said that even though we are dust and are marked by sin, God is with us through that season of darkness – and he stressed that it will be a message of hope.

“Even while we walk through this wilderness, we carry the mark of holiness and reconciliation,” the bishop said. He added that creation was formed out of darkness and chaos. “That’s not an easy place to walk, but we have to walk it.”

Rev. Julie Hager Love, the Annual Conference Secretary, said the balloting for General and Jurisdictional Conferences will be the main orders of business. She said ample time will be given to train delegates on how to use the electronic devices, and actual voting won’t begin until Tuesday, the second day of the gathering. The electronic devices will only be used during the General and Jurisdictional voting, Love said.

The ordination of new clergy is always a big celebration, along with celebrating retirees and remembering clergy and spouses who have died in the past year, Love said. Bishop Paul Leeland of the Western North Carolina Conference will preach at Monday evening’s Service of Ordination and Commissioning.

Also, having Rev. Dr. Tod Bolsinger – an administrator and faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary and author of “Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory” doing teaching sessions – will be insightful.

Fairley said the timing is appropriate to have Bolsinger appear in a teaching role since the canoe paddles the church is currently using aren’t working so well.

It was an indirect reference to The United Methodist Church’s continuing and often-bitter debate over church policy toward LGBTQ persons. A special General Conference in February 2019 affirmed traditional church policy but left many unsatisfied, and further debate is all but assured to dominate the 2020 General Conference.

Is there angst in Kentucky this year over the continuing debate? Love said there is always anxiety around Annual Conference, but it seems to be somewhat heightened this year. She said she hopes people will continue to figure out the best way to have hard conversations.

“I would hope that we can model healthy and Christ-like relationships as we converse with each other and in the plenary sessions,” she said. “We could be a positive witness to the world.”

This will also be an Annual Conference of a different sort of “first” and “last.”

This will be the first gathering that Dawn Sparks Fairley attends as the bishop’s wife. Last year, he briefly spoke on the final day of Annual Conference about their blooming relationship and introduced her to the gathering. They married in September.

“She has been a tremendous anchor for me,” Bishop Fairley said of his wife, who also handles many of the logistics in planning Annual Conference.

And it will be the 15th and last gathering that Love oversees as Conference Secretary, a job that requires pretty much year-round planning and marathon days during Annual Conference and the weeks leading up to it. On July 1 she will become president and CEO of the United Methodist Children’s Homes in Nicholasville and Owensboro. Love is also leaving her role as director of Connectional Ministries.

Assuming delegates approve, Love will be replaced as Conference Secretary by Rev. Tami Coleman, the current Associate Director of Connectional Ministries. She will be leaving that position to become pastor of Hanson UMC in the Pennyrile District, in addition to her new role with Annual Conference.

The upcoming move is “bittersweet,” Love said. “I’ll miss the people, but I’m looking forward to sitting on the back row at Annual Conference next year and being able to have dinner with my friends.”