“I could speak for hours about John,” said Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar. “I want him to know how deeply we admire him and appreciate him for his leadership. From the bottom of my heart, I say thanks, John, for who you are; thank you for your faithful ministry to this Conference.”
Rev. Blackadar said that while there is much that he will miss, the time is right.
“It just feels like this is the time,” he said. “Things are in pretty good order right now, and a new secretary has opportunity to get their feet planted and get acclimated” before the next General Conference (now set for 2022), which is likely to bring many significant changes for the church.
The bishop has appointed Preeti Pabreja, a lay member of the UMC of Westford, MA, to serve as Conference Secretary beginning Nov. 1, 2021. Read more about her
Rev. Blackadar began serving as secretary in the former New Hampshire Conference in 1976. He continued as Conference Secretary
until 2005, when he became the New Hampshire District Superintendent. He filled that role until he retired in 2010.
In late 2015, Conference Secretary Ralph Oduor stepped down after 10 years, and Bishop Devadhar asked Rev. Blackadar to step into the role again.
“I said, ‘I'll get you through annual conference and then you can elect a new secretary, and they can put out the Journal,’” Rev. Blackadar recalls. To which the bishop replied that he’d need to put out the Journal too.
“So, I put out that Journal, and by that time I was hooked,” Rev. Blackadar said.
“It it's kind of like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. You've got to take all these trivial pieces and they all have to fit together to make one whole. That is exciting to me,” he said.
The pieces don’t always fit – the appointment sheet says one thing and the database says something different, but resolving those conflicts and aligning those details, or trying to, is the crux of the secretary’s work, Rev. Blackadar says, and is satisfying, even if it’s a never-ending task.
“You don't ever get everybody straightened out, but you just keep moving toward perfection,” he said.
“The other part is being able to explain to people what we're doing [during the plenary sessions],” Rev. Blackadar said. “I think I have a gift to be able to do that … to say, ‘This is where we are, folks; this is what we're voting on now. And once we dispose of that, we're going on to the next one, which is this …”
“I enjoy being helpful to people,” he said, “that's what I have enjoyed.”
That ability to guide people through the session is something UM Foundation President Ted Crass told Rev. Blackadar he has appreciated.
“At Annual Conference every year I really appreciated your steady presence at the dais,” Rev. Crass said. “You helped to give us a sense of confidence that we were doing holy work and that we were being looked after, and I say that with profound gratitude.”
Conference Secretary is a big job (one UMC guide for conference secretaries is 43 pages long), and there’s work to be done throughout the year. It’s a team effort, Rev. Blackadar said.
“The secretary doesn't have to do all the work,” he said. “The secretary just has to make sure the job is done.”
That requires an “eye for detail” and the ability to balance upholding the rules with being flexible. For example, the rule that the text of any motion has to be in the hands of the secretary and bishop before a vote can take place is one that he proposed. It can make the voting process longer, Rev. Blackadar said, but ensures accuracy.
From the time that Rev. Blackadar stepped into the role 46 years ago when Rev. Calvin Warburton fell ill during the New Hampshire Annual Conference session (Rev. Blackadar was elected as secretary the next year), what constitutes “the conference” has changed.
Rev. Blackadar worked on developing the new conference rules and with the camps when the Maine and New Hampshire conferences were coming together with Southern New England. He was also a liaison to the Troy Conference when part of that conference joined New England in 2010.
Green Mountain District Superintendent Jill Colley Robinson spoke about Rev. Blackadar’s work on the mergers — both at the forefront and behind the scenes.
“Thank you for being so welcoming, and honest, and faithful to that process,” Rev. Colley Robinson said. “It sounds like we wouldn’t be a New England Conference without you. Thank you for bringing us all together.”
His long tenure as secretary also means Rev. Blackadar has a lot of knowledge about our history and our processes as an Annual Conference, and he’s willing to be available to help the new secretary and others.
“I'm not going to tell you how to do your job,” he said. “I'm not going to tell you what you're doing wrong. But if you come to me and ask me a question — how to do this or what happened back in 1993 — I'm happy to answer questions.”
Following the rules, his closing message to the Conference comes in well-under the 3-minutes allowed during the Annual Conference session: "I have been honored to serve the Annual Conference as your Secretary. Thank you!”