Sleeping out can be a stout spiritual practice (read more here) — for fellowship, material fasting, and advocacy. Plus, it’s a dirt cheap alternative to traditional lodging. That’s why it was born to be paired with United Methodist Annual Conference: sleeping out is the perfect way to do some holy conferencing.
A few thousand delegates and visitors attend every Annual Conference, many spending multiple nights. That equates to literally tens of thousands of dollars spent each year on lodging. In the vein of Mr. Wesley (save all you can to give all you can), a handful of us realized that sleeping out would enable us to lower the cost of our overall stay to, well, zero, and then that money could remain in our local churches or be given to a common cause. The logistics came together in 2010, so the first sleep-out commenced with a total of three participants.
Each year since then, the logistics continue to come together and so there is a standing open invitation to all clergy and laity to join in, for one night or several. For those unable or unwilling to participate directly, our “tent city” is setup within eye-shot of the Conference Center as a reminder for all to find other creative ways to save and to give. We’ve heard stories of people downgrading their luxury suites, switching to multiple occupancy, and even deciding to match their hotel bill with giving to the designated offering. Thus, if nothing else, we hope that the sleep-out provokes people to take a more intentional account of their Conferencing.
From the beginning, the sleep-out has also set out to highlight a specific cause each year at the guidance of the Bishop, like everything from the Central Conference Pension Initiative and the Imagine No Malaria campaign, to Stop Hunger Now and childhood poverty in South Carolina. Whatever the case, these causes put a face to the reasons why we relinquish some of our own comfort in order to give. We know that so many of God’s children have no choice but to live and sleep in drastically more difficult conditions every night of their lives, so it’s an easy sacrifice for us to make for a few nights during Conference.
How To Participate
Every year brings new faces. We’ve had between 15 and 25 participants the last few years, and you should consider coming out either to spend the night or to fellowship. Other than abiding by the spirit of holy, Christian conferencing, there’s little in the way of rules for how the sleep-out goes. Typically, the group will pool its outdoor equipment and resources to be sure that everyone has tent-space and a sleeping bag.
Most of us who sleep out spend our days and evenings exactly as we usually would at Conference, in sessions and visiting with friends, attending dinners and even being ordained. We just sleep differently. Participants usually secure their belongings and clothing in their cars. The Civic Center lets us setup tent city on the grassy knoll area in the Northeast corner of the rear parking lot (marked in orange in the Google Earth view below), and they reserve the adjacent parking spaces for easy access. What about restrooms and showers? We’re able to use the Civic Center’s locker room facilities anytime between 6am and around 10pm. In other words, you’ve got everything you could ever need (and Target is only a few blocks away).
Rev. Josh McClendon organizes the sleep-out and begins setup on the afternoon that Conference begins, and it’s as simple as showing up any time. But if you do have questions or if you’re in need of gear, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.