65 people from U.S., Eastern Europe gather to worship, celebrate
saw 65 people from throughout the United States and Eastern Europe convene at the Kentucky Annual Conference for the In Mission Together conference.
The theme of the conference was God as “I Was, I Am, and I Will be.”
On Friday night, an international camp meeting was held featuring a wide range of worship styles. A bluegrass group from Elizabethtown, Honeysuckle Ridge, and a Swahili language Congolese refugee choir from Buechel UMC represented two sides of Kentucky's culture and worship experience.
Rev. Craig Taylor, pastor of Stovall UMC, talked about experiencing the varied worship styles. “It was amazing to hear both groups worshipping in such different styles in the same place. In the end, we had Africans, Americans, and Europeans from over 11 different nations worshipping in many different tongues to the same God under one roof. The refrain we sang for our very last song, led by the Swahili choir, was ‘There is no God like ours!’ This was a literal Pentecost moment as we saw the spirit move from around the world.”
Rev. John Hatton, Heartland District Superintendent, was asked to deliver the message and serve communion during morning worship on Friday. For his message, Hatton followed the theme of the day, which was “I Am.”
Hatton chose to share about the “I Am” statements of Jesus and how they connect with God’s burning bush statement, “I Am that I Am.” He talked about how we can often begin to rely upon our gifts, graces, education, and expertise for building the Kingdom of God and in planting churches.
He encouraged those in attendance to remember that “Jesus said, ‘I am the vine and you are the branches.’ We are called to rely upon Jesus for the work of the Kingdom. What happens when we fail? God as vine-dresser comes along and ‘lifts us up off the ground’ and trims us for fruitfulness, just like vine-dressers did in Jesus’ time.
“God also trims us when we are bearing fruit so that we can be more fruitful,” Hatton continued. “It is through pruning that God reveals our true selves and helps us to stop wasting energy in our own fruitless endeavors. A vine-dresser is never closer or more intimate with the branches than when she or he has the pruning knife in their hand, thinking about the long-term health of the plant. God prunes us as well for our long-term health and growth.”
On being asked to serve communion, Hatton acknowledged that being asked to serve such a diverse group meant a lot to him.
“Our family is multi-ethnic, and we have very close friends and family around the world,” he said. “Our family values and enjoys the richness of cultures throughout the world. Yet as Christians, we all gather as the Body of Christ around the same Table of the Lord, and Jesus is the host at this meal. It is powerful to me to think on these things, for despite our great cultural diversity, we all dine with the same Lord who meets us there. My brothers and sisters, representing churches and ministries throughout Eastern Europe, gathered with me and we met Jesus there. Thanks be to God.”
Hatton was honored to be asked to share and be part of the conference. “I was thrilled to hear about how God is working in Eastern Europe!”
With Kavanaugh Conference and Retreat Center – which shares space with the Kentucky Conference Center in Crestwood – serving as host, it marked the first time that the event had been held outside of a local church.
Taylor, a member of the organizing team, was pleased with the work of both the Conference and Kavanaugh. “It went wonderfully. There were many unknowns and changes that had to be made since this event has never been hosted outside a local church before. Having the support of the Conference, the hosting and work of Kavanaugh to pull it off and an amazing planning team made it such a remarkable event.”
On Sunday, after the conference concluded, the pastors from these many nations went to join and lead worship in churches across our Conference, continuing their work of joining In Mission Together.