Diary of a charge conference: When paperwork, family obligations, bad luck and good intentions collide

Diary of a charge conference: When paperwork, family obligations, bad luck and good intentions collide

Each fall, Holston churches join others throughout the denomination in preparing for the traditional, angst-ridden meeting with the district superintendent -- known as the "charge conference." With his own charge conference safely behind him, a Knoxville District pastor shares his personal diary in support of his colleagues, who have yet to unjam the copying machine and staple their final forms.

  • Aug. 2. – Received e-mail from district secretary with a Charge Conference Schedule. Mine is relatively early on Sept. 28. It is too hot to think about that stuff right now.
  • Aug. 17 – Charge Conference forms were handed out at the district preachers’ meeting. I will definitely look at this later.
  • Aug. 31 -- (five committee meetings, four weddings, three music director interviews, two soccer tournaments, and one band camp later) It is still just too hot.
  • Sept. 1 - (T minus 27 days until Charge Conference) Oh man! Charge Conference is THIS month. Lay Leadership meeting tonight.
  • Sept. 4-5 - Gave a Chrysalis talk Saturday. Baptized a baby Sunday. Did nothing to prepare for Charge Conference.
  • Sept. 7 - Got a phone call at midnight. My father-in-law was taken to LeConte Medical Center in Sevierville. His blood pressure is really high and he is in ICU.
  • Sept. 8 – (T minus 20 days) Wednesday night program resumed after the summer hiatus. I led the Bible study.
  • Sept. 11 – (T minus 17 days) Pancake breakfast fundraiser. Nephew’s birthday party. Visited my father-in-law. He was moved from ICU to a regular room, so he must be improving. Went to an old friend’s birthday party out on the lake. Had a good time, except for the repetitive internal whisper … "Charge Conference, Charge Conference.”
  • Sept. 12 – Special worship service for 9/11 remembrance. District Conference.
  • Sept. 13 - Met with my Lay Leader to discuss expectations for his Charge Conference report.
  • Sept. 14 – (T minus 14 days) Okay. This is getting serious. I have two weeks to get ready. Better really start working now. I should call some of the people who have been nominated for a position.
  • Sept. 15 – Read the Lay Leader’s Report. It is fantastic. I want it for my Pastor’s Report. I start my report. Hmmm. What has happened this year? My mind is blank, and so is the page. "Charge Conference, Charge Conference!"
  • Sept. 17 – Finished a rough draft of my Pastor’s Report. I motivate myself by thinking the report will be so impressive, the Bishop and District Superintendents will pass it around the table at the next Cabinet meeting.
  • Sept. 18 – Learned that my father-in-law had a stroke and a heart attack. My wife is very worried now. He may end up in a nursing home. He is 82. What was that thing I was supposed to be working on?
  • Sept. 21 -- (T minus ONE WEEK until CC) My wife is driving from Knoxville to Sevierville each night after work. I moved a long table into my office at the church and spread out the dozen or so Charge Conference forms all over it. There. That was a big step.
  • Sept. 23 – (T minus 5 days) My wife went to see her father in ICU. He wasn’t there. They moved him to a regular room without calling her. She decided to stay the night in order to talk to the doctor in the morning. I started working on the more tedious reports for Charge Conference. I filled in the addresses for Church Leaders, Student Inventory. Now, why did we let the secretary go again? The editor of The Call asks if I would be interested in writing an article about the stress of Charge Conference. Is she crazy?
  • Sept. 24 – The doctors told my wife there is nothing more they can do for her father. A social worker told her that Select Specialty at Fort Sanders in Knoxville will accept him. At least he would be closer to home, but she resolved to stay with him nonstop anyway. I spend the day staring at reports that do not seem very important anymore.
  • Sept. 25 – (T minus 3 days) After driving my daughter to a band competition, I went to be with my wife who is holding vigil at Ft. Sanders. I stayed until lunch and then went home to work on Charge Conference materials. It is serious now … I am not even watching the UT game. Returned to the hospital at suppertime. My good friend Richard Richter came to stay with us for several hours. Sometimes the pastor needs a pastor. My wife needed one who was not her husband, too. This is the Methodist connection for me. My father-in-law seemed to be breathing easily, so I went home around 1 a.m. to get a little sleep. Church in the morning.
  • Sept. 26 – About the time I dozed off, my cell phone rang. “He’s gone.” Back to Fort Sanders. My wife and I returned home together at 5 a.m. I no longer hear the voices whispering, “Charge Conference.” After an hour of fitful sleep, I went to preach. Thankfully, there was a guest speaker for the second service, so I came home during Sunday school to comfort my wife. The rest of the day was lost.
  • Sept. 27 – (T minus 1 day) We didn’t meet with the funeral home until 3 p.m. so I spent the morning completing the reports. I didn’t “finish” but I have a handle on it now. I am no longer convinced my report will be the focus of a Cabinet meeting. I am certain that, after Charge Conference, my report will be locked in a vault next to the Lost Ark -- never to be seen again.

Sept. 28 – (CC Day)

  • 9 a.m. – I went to the office to finalize reports and make copies. I spent all morning taking phone calls and visits from people who wanted to see how we are doing. After each interruption, I struggled to remember where I was in the Charge Conference process. Where is the Lay Speaker’s Report? I recall he was going to put it in my mailbox on his way out of town.
  • 1 p.m. – I found the Lay Speaker’s Report in the mailbox -- completely saturated from the rain. I applied a hair dryer and Wite-Out and hope for the best. The United Methodist Women brought a deli tray to the house, so after a sandwich, I am back to work. The printer resists doing as commanded.
  • 3 p.m. – I’ve gone back and forth between answering my cell phone and the office phone for hours. I feel my own blood pressure rising. My mother called to check on funeral arrangements. I went off about all the interruptions.
  • 3:01 p.m. – I sent an apologetic e-mail to Mom for going off about all the interruptions.
  • 4:30 p.m. – Everything is printed and copied. Now I just need some manila folders to put the reports in. Where are they? I found four boxes of hanging file folders, a stack of phone message pads, enough staples to supply the Pentagon, and not one stinking manila file folder. Now I remember why we let the secretary go.
  • 5:30 p.m. – I had an hour at home to shower and dress for Charge Conference. The D.S. called to ask, “Are we meeting at 6:30 or 7 tonight?” I think it was 6:30. “7 o’clock is what I have!” I answered, a little too forcefully.
  • 6:30 p.m. – Everything is ready except I need to bring over a long table from the Family Life Center. I look for someone younger so I can delegate this chore. Oh, who am I kidding? They are all home to watch Britney Spears on “Glee.” I carry the table over myself.
  • 7 p.m. – Charge Conference begins.
  • 7:45 p.m. – Charge Conference ends.
  • 8 p.m. – The best thing I can say about Charge Conference is that it is over. The repetitive internal whisper changes its tune: “Sunday sermon, Sunday sermon.”


The Rev. Steve Doyal is pastor at Rutherford Memorial United Methodist Church in Corryton, Tenn.