Several years and many miles ago, I attended my first Annual Conference session. 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 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. But I am still breathing, and probably the only one who remembers this dreadful first impression. I vowed never to return.
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Fate had other plans and I just attended North Georgia’s 2011 Annual Conference session. A few weeks earlier, Tim McDaniel of the Conference Communications Office called. His team had concocted a surprise to inject some levity into conference. And they were recruiting me! 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 a confident and humorous part of North Georgia Conference TV? I would try. I would succeed. And I would make sure no dress facing would hang out and dangle down my back!
The week arrived and I was whisked into a meeting of the NGCTV crew. Our brains churned and stormed as we prepared six appropriately witty videos to be shown on the 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. I interviewed everyone from Mr. Methodism himself, John Wesley, to the lay and clergy folks in attendance. The film was then edited and transformed into videos designed specifically for our United Methodist audience.
Part of me is still introverted and shy. A more mature part of me is ready to embrace every opportunity, seek new adventure, and see exactly how far God will take me. I was inspired this year to observe 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.
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I have made many friends of my own through the UMC. One special one shared a thought with me:
Cathy, I know you were devastated when your husband 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 so 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 life experiences – and through the ministry of The United Methodist Church.
Cathy Lee Phillips
Copyright © 2011
To learn more about Cathy Lee Phillips, visit www.CathyLeePhillips.com.
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