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Spirit, spark draw laity

By Jessica Connor

LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. – Organizers are calling the 2010 Laity Convocation a stellar gathering that raised the bar on events to come – despite attendance from a crowd of fewer than 250, likely because of the holiday timing.

Attendees trekked to Lake Junaluska the weekend after July 4 to experience three days of personal spiritual growth that included 15 workshops, worship led by Bishop Woodie White, concerts by the celebrated Lake Junaluska Singers and the traditional watermelon cutting, among other activities.

With a theme of “It Only Takes a Spark,” workshop and worship were chock-full of ideas for lay leaders to bring back to local churches.

Workshop topics ranged from “Making Your Marriage a Priority” by the Rev. Ken Nelson to “Developing Good Sunday School Teachers” by Dr. Doris Layton to “Gift-Oriented Ministry” by the Rev. Cathy Joens.

“We wanted people to go away feeling as if there is something they can take back home, that it’s not only for them, but something they can share with others,” said Conference Lay Leader Dr. Joseph Heyward. “And I think these workshops did just that.”

Heyward credited Laity Convocation Task Group Leader Lisa Livingston and her committee with producing a strong event offering a wide array of interesting and helpful workshops. The convocation is the 37th annual and is thought to be United Methodism’s longest-running laity conference in the nation.

Workshops run the gamut

Attendees were abuzz with ideas from the 15 workshops presented all day Saturday, the second day of the convocation. Small crowds of people were heard chatting excitedly after each session – over lunch and even in the restroom  – exchanging ideas and debating some of the lessons learned.

“There was such a feeling of community at the convocation,” said Debbie Riley, Swansea United Methodist Church, Swansea, who appreciated the collective search for daily answers and having them revealed through small groups.

Some ideas:

In “The Nine Conversations Adult Children Should Have with Their Aging Parents,” Scott Middleton of Agape Senior shared a sad tale about an older driver accidentally backing over his wife, who died as a result.  Number one on the list of nine items to discuss is “driving: taking away the keys.”

In “Connecting the Dots of Effective Communication,” the Rev. Carleathea Benson encouraged catchy, feel-good buzz words like “M&Ms” – her acronym for “Methodist Moments.” Benson suggested that people get creative in vocabulary when getting the word out about their church. She also encouraged them to be as transparent as possible.

“We have to let people know we don’t have anything to hide,” Benson said.

In “Risk Management,” Jim Ellis of Southern Mutual Church Insurance Company encouraged churches to keep a very detailed inventory of their belongings and take photos or even videos of the rooms – and store them in a safe location off-site. A picture is worth a thousand words, he said.

In “Fun Things To Do With Youth and Other Church Groups,” Dr. Bob Barrett recommended people use songs, skits and other interactive activities to generate interest and enthusiasm.

In “New Mercies,” the Rev. James Friday urged people to humble themselves before God and surrender themselves fully. Unsurrendered hearts get in the way of God’s appointing, he taught. He also encouraged people to unburden themselves of unconfessed sins – the little moments, like cursing someone under our breath or cutting a person off on the highway.

In “Inspiring Worship,” the Rev. Jeff Kersey recommended that churches consider highly participatory, prayer-driven worship with dramatic energy. At his church, Mount Horeb UMC, Lexington, they use stage sets, music, art, video clips and a worship theme to draw the attention and hearts of parishioners.

Livingston said organizers of the event are always striving to improve the event and make the coming year even better than the last.

“We always want to improve the topics and have a good variety of workshops that reflect the true purpose of Laity Convocation: for people to have opportunities for spiritual development, opportunities for fellowship and ideas to take back to own churches,” she said. “And certainly the setting at Lake Junaluska provided the perfect backdrop.”

See photos on this page and the next for more workshop ideas.

‘Disappointing attendance’

However, with all of the Laity Convocation’s strong programming, Heyward called the low attendance “most disappointing.”

He said organizers attribute the slender numbers to the proximity of the July 4 holiday weekend. Next year, they will probably hold the event closer to the end of July, Heyward said.

“They offer the most wonderful workshops – the variety, the presenters, the exciting topics full of information for people to take back,” said Patricia Dalton, who has been attending Laity Convocation for the past four years and is the wife of the Rev. Kevin Dalton. “We should be ashamed of ourselves [for such low attendance.] It’s not that expensive.”

She thinks local churches should do a better job of encouraging their members to attend.

R. Fletcher Carter, who helped start the convocation in 1973, remembers when attendance was as high as 1,100 people, and churches used to get awards for attendance.

“We need to stimulate something,” Carter said. “Rattle your chains.”

Organizers also plan to increase outreach to youth and young adults.

“We need to begin turning the tide and looking at our age average,” Heyward said.

Bishop White ‘excellent leader’

Still, from workshops to the worship services, attendees said they were highly pleased with the convocation.

Bishop White was a major attraction, many said.

In a Sunday morning sermon titled “How Can I Keep From Singing,” White encouraged laity to enjoy a strong, praise-filled personal relationship with the Father.

“You praise Him when you’re ‘up’ and when you’re ‘down,’” he said. “You praise Him not because you know of Him but because you know Him.”

Heyward called White an excellent worship leader.

“The audience really enjoyed him,” he said.

Livingston agreed.

“Powerful sums it up,” Livingston said of Bishop White’s words both Friday night and Sunday morning. “He never lets us down, is just truly one of those people who is a magnet. He is a remarkable speaker.”

Check the Advocate soon for the date of the 2011 convocation.

Robin Landers contributed to this article.

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