July 01, 2017

My advice to United Methodist men going to Annual Conference in 2018: stop shaving this fall. By next June you should have enough facial hair for beard braids and a handlebar moustache. It’s a great ice-breaker for your fellow Methodist friends whom you haven’t seen in a while.

You can use the No-Shave November (Movember) movement that raises awareness of men’s health issues as an excuse to get started, then just continue not shaving. I find it pretty easy to make a practice of not doing something.

Reactions to my braids varied. Southeast District Superintendent Fred Leist asked if my braids were some variation on being Hasidic. The ever-kind Bishop Fritz Mutti politely observed, “I think you’re doing something different with your beard since I saw you last.” Our accounts payable staffer Erin Ellen, with perhaps the most astute and direct, albeit somewhat cruel, commentary, asked if I had lost a bet. Rev. Jim Voigt of Hallsville offered to help me seek vengeance on whoever had done this to me. Rev. Willis Johnson of Ferguson had to show me to Rev. Emanuel Cleaver III of St. James and ask him if he’d seen Rudy’s cousin.

He was referring to Rev. Rudy Rasmus, pastor of St. John’s UMC Houston, Texas. Rudy owns the beard braids. Although I’m not directly trying to emulate him, he’s someone I’m honored to be compared to, even if it is just based on facial hair. Director of Pastoral Excellence Karen Hayden shared with me that Rudy once explained his beard braids were a way to gauge how truly open minded someone is, because if they could take him seriously looking like that they weren’t likely to be too judgmental.

The handle-bar moustache is also key, as it gives the impression of me being cheerful. Regardless of my actual mood, the ‘stache is doing all the heavy lifting by giving the appearance of a smile. It’s the exact opposite of a full beard, which hides my emotional state entirely. Our star volunteer photographer Rev. Eric Mattson told me at first he thought it was Rollie Fingers sitting up on the front row at Annual Conference. Not being a baseball historian, I had to go to Google that one. When I first braided my beard, a friend asked if I could get away with looking like that at work. I scoffed, and explained that United Methodists are very accepting people. I could get a large neck tattoo, and would probably get bonus points on my performance appraisal for taking a bold initiative to connect with people outside the church walls.

So Annual Conference was a lot of fun for me. But you don’t really have to do strange things to your facial hair. Annual Conference looked like it was fun for everyone, from the people who had to plan and run the whole thing, to the first timers who just showed up and tried to figure out what exactly an Annual Conference Session is. I hope the fun of the meeting, the great information shared and words of wisdom conveyed comes through in this issue of The Missouri Methodists. I try to get a mix of content in every other issue of the magazine, but the July edition is pure Annual Conference Session, with everything in its pages occurring during the conference in Springfield.

With one exception – a sharp eye will spot the photo on page 35 as being Fake News, and actually being shot in Conference Room B, just down the hall from my desk, not in Springfield.

The reason is Annual Conference wasn’t fun for Karen Hayden. Appendicitis took her out as things got started. Director of Financial Ministries Nate Berneking did a bang-up job of giving her report, and I got a good picture of him doing it. If you really want it I can email it to you. But I just didn’t feel right about running a picture of Nate reporting on Karen’s office, so I snapped this picture of Karen back on the job with her Crossroads interns, right before this magazine went to press.

Don’t worry about your favorite, reoccurring features missing – they will be back next month. For now – enjoy the Annual Conference issue.