Charge Conference Behind the Scenes
By Jim Minutelli, CLM
Wesleyan District Communications Coordinator
For most of us, Charge Conference is a time that we gather together, typically in the fall, to share the business and good news of our charges and churches. If you have ever served on a local church or charge committee, you are probably quite aware of the work that goes into preparing for this yearly conference with your District Superintendent.
In the early days of Methodism, John Wesley understood the need for an organized system of communication and accountability. His process of “connexion” involved a network of classes, societies, and annual conferences, and, according to the United Methodist Church website, www.umc.org, “every local church was, and is, linked to an interconnected network of organizations that join together in mission and ministry, allowing us to accomplish far more than any one local church or person could alone.”
Wesley described Christian conferencing as a spiritual discipline through which God’s grace may be revealed. The word “conference,” then, refers to both the assembly and organization of people as well as the process of discerning God’s call together.
But have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes in preparation for your church or charge meeting?
Before the work of each district begins, the West Virginia Conference staff starts to compile apportionment information for each church for the next year based on each church’s Statistical Report immediately after Annual Conference in June.
Soon after this data is finalized and sent to the districts (typically in July), the administrative assistants and district superintendents sit down with a calendar to look at dates for individual church or charge meetings.
In the Wesleyan District, according to DS Rev. Mary Ellen Finegan, “we have over 70 charges to schedule, and we have to take into account all meetings, events on the Conference calendar, Cabinet dates, special events from the Bishop, and, of course, the schedules of the charges.” It can be an ever-evolving task as events get changed and calendars modified.
Jo Criss, as Administrative Assistant for the Wesleyan District, begins her planning well in advance of the charge conference season. After more than 23 years on the job, she has seen her share of charge conferences, as well as many changes and improvements to the process.
One big change this year, according to Criss, is that churches and charges can find fillable charge conference forms online, which can significantly reduce the amount of time and effort for a district to copy and distribute the forms to each charge. But, she admits, it is still a work in progress. “Old information has to be entered into the new database this year,” she said, “which has created some additional work, but it is working well and will make future years’ paperwork easier.”
“Pastors are then notified where to find the forms,” Rev. Finegan said, and hard copies are handed out to those who cannot access them electronically “Everything is transparent and these papers that must be completed will show that the church allows Jesus to shine in all they do in ministry and in mission.”
Celebrating churches’ work in their communities
Rev. Amy Shanholtzer, Superintendent of the MonValley District, echoed the sentiment. “I see it (charge conference) as time to check-in, review, celebrate and do the necessary work to prepare to start the new year,” she said. “Our folks are faithful and committed to the preparatory work.”
Rev. Shanholtzer and her administrative assistant, Sarah Estep, read every page of documentation, sometimes multiple times, to ensure accuracy so that she can go to each conference prepared to “ask good questions and spark conversations around the needs of the churches.”
If anyone has seen Rev. Shanholtzer’s social media posts about her charge conference journey this year, you are familiar with her collection of stuffed animals.
“Ken Willard (WV Conference Director of Discipleship, Leadership and Congregational Vitality) gave me one stuffed bunny (he gave them to all the cabinet members). It was a symbol that we’re to go forth and multiply – relationships, small groups, ministry, outreach opportunities – that our goal is multiplication. I started talking about that at the charge conference after Ken gave it to me. And, through none of my own doing, the bunny and his friends are multiplying.” Each charge conference she gains a new animal. “We’re all having fun. And, maybe Children’s Hospital will have a donation from it by Thanksgiving!”
Pride in a job well done
Charge conference requires a lot of preparation and work at each level of our connection. Both superintendents agree that communication between all parties involved is the key in making Charge Conference a success and a meaningful experience to all the churches and their members.
Rev. Finegan sums it up this way: “When churches and charges are faithful in this, everybody who is a member of a local church can be proud of the work their officers, leaders and pastors are doing. Charge Conference is one of the most important meetings that churches prepare for each year, allowing each member of our connection to go forward in ministry and mission for the purpose of making disciples for the transformation of the world.