From the beginning of the Methodist movement, the people called Methodist have gathered once a year in holy conferencing. Called “annual conference”, this time of gathering begins with the Resident Bishop calling the conference to order. Then, the members of the Annual Conference sing the rousing, historic hymn, And Are We Yet Alive. This hymn was written by Charles Wesley, one of the founders of the Methodist movement, and Methodists have been singing this hymn to open annual conference since the first days of conferencing in England.
The hymn expresses gratitude for the preservation of life and the ability to gather yet another year. In the wake of the shootings in Orlando and one year after the tragedy in Charleston, singing “And are we yet alive and see each other’s face” had a particular poignancy. During annual conference, we had time dedicated to remember the massacre at Mother Emmanuel church in Charleston. Bishop Ward requested that we sing James Weldon Johnson’s magnificent hymn, Lift Every Voice and Sing. She gently reminded us that not all United Methodists sing this hymn well and she invited those who knew the hymn to come forward and form an impromptu choir to lead the singing.
Many persons of color came up from their seats and I am pleased to say that some Anglo folks came forward, too. Old and young, black and white, male and female, we joined hands and began to lift our voices. As we joined hands, all the members of annual conference linked hands, hearts, and voices to sing all verses. We did not gloss over the dark days of the past as we looked forward to a day when all people will be allowed to live in freedom and dignity. And are we yet alive? By the grace of God, yes!
Rev. Molly Shivers