Dr. Jamie Jenkins: Lawn Care and Church Polity

Lawn care and church polity: different means, one goal

I have never thought of myself as a deep thinker and if you keep reading you will probably agree. I hope my thoughts won't seem too juvenile or insulting to your intelligence.

I had a revelation (you might not call it that) while cutting the grass last week. I was using a rotary mower that is powered by gasoline. One of my next door neighbors has an electric mower and one man on the next street uses a reel mower. Most of the homeowners in our sub-division have lawn services that maintain their properties.

A rotary mower is a mower in which the blade spins horizontally (east to west) and uses a sucking and tearing action to cut the blades of grass. It usually has one blade which rotates very fast and can cut a wide variety of grass conditions. This type mower is usually powered by gas engines or electric engines.

A reel mower is a mower in which the blades spin vertically (north to south) and use a scissoring action to cut the blades of grass. A reel mower should have between three and seven blades, depending on the model type.

Sometimes I bag my grass clippings and send them to the landfill. At other times I leave the clippings on the lawn and they act as mulch and decompose quickly, releasing nitrogen into the lawn. Over the course of a cutting season, that mulch is equivalent to a free application of fertilizer.

Why am I offering a lesson on lawn mowers and grass cutting? Actually I am not. I am trying to find a way to explain an important aspect of Methodism. Stay with me and maybe you will get the point. Maybe not.

Church polity (the form of government for a denomination or individual church) can be hard to explain. Attempts to describe the structure of The United Methodist Church and how it functions can be especially interesting. Try to explain "charge conference" to the average person on the street (or in the pew). Or "Bishop." The office/title has a variety of meanings for different people.

This leads me to my point. Annual Conference begins Wednesday. What is "Annual Conference?" Well, the term could be referring to any one of three things. The annual conference is a regional body, an organizational unit AND a yearly meeting.

An annual conference may cover an entire state, only part of the state, or even parts of two or more states. The North Georgia Annual Conference covers the northern part of the state roughly above a line drawn from Augusta to West Point.

The United States has 63 annual conferences, supervised by 50 bishops. The North Georgia Resident Bishop is B. Michael Watson. There are 59 annual conferences in Africa, Europe, and the Philippines, which are supervised by 18 bishops. Each annual conference has a central office and professional staff that coordinate and conduct ministry and the business of the conference.

Each year-usually in May or June-all clergy members and an equal number of lay members selected from the local churches attend their conference's Annual Conference session. The North Georgia Conference convenes this year at the Classic Center in Athens, June 16-18. The 2800 members will have several worship services; engage in a hands-on mission project; hear reports of past and ongoing work; adopt future goals, programs and budgets; ordain clergy members as deacons and elders; and enjoy time with old friends and making new ones. The bishop presides over these meetings.

Now, back to lawn mowers and grass cutting and how they (hopefully) relate to Annual Conference. Different types of mowers and different methods of lawn care all accomplish the same purpose. Likewise, all churches and denominations do not have to have the same structure in order to carry out the mission of Christ and the Gospel.

The best way to understand anything, grass cutting or Annual Conference, is to experience it first hand. I invite you to the 144th session of the North Georgia Annual Conference. There are three ways to have this experience: (1) be there (2) watch live streaming on the internet (http://www.ngumc.org/streaming) from Wednesday 2:00 PM-Friday 5:00 PM (3) Subscribe for daily email updates (http://www.ngumc.org/site/stayconnected).

--Jamie Jenkins

[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," June 14, 2010. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]