#kac2022: After two years of COVID-19 separation, an in-person gathering

June 02, 2022
By Alan Wild
Clergy and lay members of the Kentucky Annual Conference are preparing to gather for their first in-person meeting since 2019 – and Rev. Tami Coleman, the Conference Secretary, can’t wait to welcome everyone to Owensboro.

“For us to be together for the first time in three years is exciting,” Coleman said in an interview. Annual Conference will be Monday-Wednesday, June 6-8.

She noted that this year’s theme is “Grow in the Love of God,” and one way is to experience the means of grace. To that end, a special guest will be joining us at Annual Conference to remind everyone of the means of grace and how these are opportunities for God to grow us in love.

“As we gather, keeping this year’s theme in mind, my prayer is that each of us are reminded that we are the recipients of a love that none of us deserves,” Bishop Leonard Fairley said. “Yet God, through Jesus Christ, covers us with a grace that will always be sufficient. God has loved us through some very difficult times, and that love never fades.”

COVID-19 prevented Annual Conference from being held in person in 2020 and 2021 and this year will be held at the Owensboro Convention Center, situated along the Ohio River. (In recent years Annual Conference has been held in Covington and Bowling Green.)

Coleman serves as pastor at nearby Hanson UMC, and one thing she is particularly looking forward to this year is the Tuesday night festivities along the Ohio River, adjacent to the Convention Center. Food trucks will be there for people to get supper and a frozen dessert. There will be plenty of room to sit and visit, and Bluegrass bands have been lined up to perform.

“It’s just going to be a fun, festive time of fellowship with one another, and I think after three years of not being together, this will be a time that will be special,” Coleman said.

The Service of Ordination and Commissioning on Monday evening is also always a special time, Coleman said.  

This year’s Missional Offering will be divided between the Kentucky United Methodist Children’s Homes – which is commemorating 150 years of helping children across the commonwealth – and areas impacted by the December tornadoes in western Kentucky.

“Seeing the devastation of the tornadoes within the county where I serve (Hopkins) was heartbreaking, but it’s so encouraging now to see the progress that is being made,” Coleman said. “I know the monies being raised will be used to continue to put people’s lives back together, because it’s a long process.”

Dawson Springs, situated in Hopkins County, was one of the most devastated residential areas. Coleman was there a couple of weeks ago and said a lot of the cleanup has been done, But the reconstruction and rebuilding is just gearing up, so the missional offering is still very much needed.

Coleman said Hanson is among the area churches that have been hosting disaster-relief teams regularly. A team from Nebraska was staying at the church this past week, and Hanson also has hosted crews from Pikeville and the Eastern Kentucky University Wesley Foundation, among other places.

In light of continued concerns about the virus, Annual Conference planners are taking some special precautions. Seating will allow for plenty of spacing in the main hall. Masks are optional but encouraged, and rapid-test kits will be provided for people who might fall ill after arriving in Owensboro.

Coleman also is aware that anxiety is high given the denominational uncertainty and the postponement of General Conference until 2024, meaning the future of the United Methodist Church remains in limbo. And some of that certainly could surface during Annual Conference.

The Bishop’s Operational Team will have some floor time to share some tools to help local churches have these difficult conversations and to help them discern the way forward.

“We know there’s a lot of uncertainty and still a lot of angst around the future of the church and the denomination,” Coleman said. “But we still see God moving in our churches and in our Conference, and we want to celebrate that.”

Looking ahead to the Owensboro gathering, Fairley referenced 1 John 4:29: “May our holy conferencing help us reclaim the truth that ‘We loved because he (Christ) first loved us.’
“May it be that out of this amazing love and grace poured out for us in Jesus Christ, we will truly love each other.”