As the strains of “And Are We Yet Alive” swelled in the Greenville Convention Center, the North Carolina Annual Conference began its official work for 2016. The business of doing the work together proceeded quickly as the rules were adopted, with changes made to reflect the shift from a constituency-based Conference Connectional Table to a membership-based model with 12 at-large voting members. Rules Committee chair, Ellen McCubbin, noted that the change would allow for “keeping values at the center of vision” and a “quicker and easier alignment of values and vision” as the Connectional Table continues its work of leading and resourcing the annual conference.
Bishop Ward and Conference Lay Leader Gary Locklear opened the conference with a word from Psalm 84, reminding members that “God’s love flows to and through us and outward from us to the world.” The Bishop offered words of celebration that The United Methodist Church has raised $68.5 million for Imagine No Malaria and the North Carolina Conference exceeded its $1 million goal by giving $1,112,877, saving 111,288 lives.
The Mission Endowment is beginning to fund projects working toward comprehensive housing initiatives and the development of a church within a Harnett county prison. Giving to the Mission Endowment provides resources for new missions within the North Carolina Conference. A special offering received today for the Mission Endowment Fund totaled $9,189.57.
Speaking on behalf on this year’s class of retiring clergy, Dennis Sheppard quoted Robert Frost: “For I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep,” as he reflected on the journey of a pastor’s life from ordination through retirement and beyond. The conference rose in applause and appreciation of the years of service, love, and leadership represented by the 26 retirees.
Carl Frazier, speaking on behalf of the United Methodist Publishing House (UMPH), offered a lost and found story from the UMPH’s recent move of headquarters, in which a copy of a Francis Asbury booklet called “The Causes, Evil, and Cures of Heart and Church Division” was rediscovered. The booklet, timely for the current day, has been updated and given to the Council of Bishops and delegates to General Conference 2016. Cokesbury Community Resource Consultant, Michael Boone, presented a copy of the Deep Blue Children’s Storybook to Bishop Ward, urging her to share it with a child.
Chaplain Dave Smith spoke about the Soul Care Initiative, resourcing churches to help returning veterans and their families reintegrate into the community. Spiritual care is an underserved ministry of helping veterans return and recover from the trauma of war. There are over 740,000 veterans living in the state of North Carolina, almost ten percent of the state’s population, many with injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. Soul Care wants to help churches help veterans find hospitality and spiritual care to create a climate of healing and care.
The Order of Deacons celebrated 20 years as an order with a video surveying a wide range of roles deacons fill in churches and communities. “I am called to Word and Service, Justice and Compassion,” said one deacon. Deacons spoke about ministry of worship, education, and youth within congregations, of helping people move toward healing, with businesspeople, and with local community members. “Something about connecting the church to the world made my heart sing,” said Rev. Erin Roesch.
Rev. Betty Ann Buckley, speaking on behalf of the order, encouraged conference attenders to celebrate the ministry of deacons and to visit a prayer-through-art station located in the convention center.