Answering the call to play a unique role
Several years and many miles ago, I attended my first annual conference. The ink was barely dry on our April 5, 1986, marriage license when I was invited to my first Clergy Spouse Luncheon. In a nano-second, I became a trembling stress level with a knot in my stomach.
I’ve always been United Methodist and grew up with “preacher’s wives” who seemed refined, baked perfect casseroles, and wore chic clothes. I never dreamed, expected, or wanted to be part of such a sorority. But I was and now I was invited to an Annual Conference luncheon.
I shopped for days, seeking the perfect dress, snazzy shoes, and coordinating purse. I prayed for perfect hair and a face free of pimples. Though I was greeted warmly, I barely spoke (seriously!) and tried to fade into the wallpaper. I carefully ate the chicken salad and cottage cheese and left as quickly as possible. When I returned to our hotel, Jerry asked, “What is wrong with your dress?”
My eyes rolled back when I realized that I attended the entire clergy spouse luncheon with the back facing of my dress hanging out and dangling down my back! I wanted to die. I am still here, and probably the only one who remembers this dreadful first impression. I vowed never to return.
* * * *
Fate had other plans and I just returned from Annual Conference 2011. Tim McDaniel of the Conference Communications Office called me a few weeks ago. We met at Starbucks the following day. I don’t even drink coffee, but I was intrigued. In whispers Tim shared a plan for Annual Conference concocted by those Communication guys. Top Secret stuff. And they were recruiting me.
My assignment – if I chose to accept it – was to help inject levity onto the floor of Annual Conference. This would be a full-service Annual Conference, highlighted by election of lay and clergy delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences. Balloting can be lengthy, tricky, and nerve-wracking, so a touch of humor would be a welcome respite. There was just one question. Could I, the formerly quiet and shy Cathy Lee Phillips, become the confident and humorous face of North Georgia Conference TV?
I would try. I would succeed. And as an intrepid reporter, I would make sure no dress facing would hang out and dangle down my back!
Sign me up, Tim. I agreed to be part of North Georgia Conference TV!
On Sunday, June 12, I was ushered through a secret tunnel into the Hilton, just across the street from the Classic Center, then quickly whisked into a meeting of the NGCTV crew. Tim was there, of course, along with several others whose names cannot be released for security reasons. Our brains churned and stormed as we developed plans for six appropriately witty videos to be shown on the three big screens of the Conference floor. Only Tim would know the exact time each video would be shown. Ha, ha, he chuckled wickedly, obviously savoring his role of Communication Chief.
We had strict deadlines so filming began immediately. My first interview was with Mr. Methodism himself, John Wesley. What an incredible honor! I sat through an entire afternoon of Annual Conference business just to see how the audience responded to our first effort. They laughed out loud – and at all the right places.
For two videos, I interviewed some of the multitudes. A few were shy, but most United Methodists were anxious to share their backgrounds, hopes for Annual Conference, thoughts on voting, and prayers for the future of our church. To others I posed probing questions, such as, “If John Wesley had an e-mail address, what would it be?” Quite a few interesting answers, I must admit. We completed our assignment with two more videos on the role of technology in the church – one on “Methotexting” and another on what some of our favorite movies would be like with a UMC flair and shown in “MethoVision.” This was highly-specialized work developed for an exceedingly specific audience. In other words, our labor was not just for the average person.
Part of me is still introverted and shy. Really. A more mature part of me is ready to embrace every opportunity, seek new adventure, and see exactly how far God will take me. Obviously, these videos will not earn anyone an Oscar, but we had fun and are proud of our work. I’m honored I was recruited.
Another part of me is thrilled that I am now friends with folks I met during my first awkward year as a clergy spouse. This year I was inspired when observing lay and clergy unify to strengthen the ministry of our Church, whether fighting malaria in distant places or restoring homes after devastating tornadoes ripped through our state. By far, my favorite comments came from men, women, and children who reminded me that they enjoy Annual Conference because, year after year, they genuinely love being with friends they have made through the ministry of The United Methodist Church.
* * * *
I also have made many friends through ministry. One woman shared a thought with me.
“Cathy, I know you were devastated when Jerry died following his heart transplant. I know you would give anything to have him back. But as I watched you on the screens this year, I thought of how blessed many of us have been by what you have done since Jerry died. Who knows if you would have written books, spoken to groups throughout the country, shared through The Advocate, or clowned around on videos with the Conference Communication Team. I know this doesn’t take the hurt away, but you have touched my life and the lives of many and I am thankful for what you have done.”
Yep, I would rather have my husband, but there is nothing I can do about that. What I can do is continue to embrace what God has done in my life through my unique gifts and experiences – and through the ministry of The United Methodist Church.
But this challenge is just mine. We are all called to do the same.
May God continue to bless us, every one.