Friday’s afternoon session opened with reports from the Duke Endowment and Jeff Severt for New Faith Communities. Severt announced the appointment of Greg Moore as the new director of New Faith Communities. In addition, Severt announced the 2016 “starting line-up” for New Faith Communities.*
Rich Vaughan of Golden Cross spoke of what it means to be able to offer support to laity under the burden of high medical expenses. The Golden Cross fund offers a $2500 grant to families with crippling medical debt. Vaughan challenged the churches of the conference to celebrate Golden Cross Sunday on August 21, and to raised $100 per church per week until then. The resulting $84,000 collection would allow Golden Cross to double the grant offering to families like the 18 helped in the past year.
Alan Swartz brought the resolutions before the conference. The first, a Resolution of Thanksgiving for Dr. Dewey Clark and North Carolina Wesleyan College, passed overwhelmingly and was celebrated with prayer by Bishop Ward. The second, detailing nine action steps for churches to support public education, was amended from the floor to ask leaders to write to their legislators to share these concerns, and also to send it to state newspapers, and was also passed with no dissent.
Bishop Ward led the conference in a moment of observance of the anniversary of the killings at Mother Emmanuel Church, singing Lift Every Voice and Sing as an act of hope and continued prayer for reconciliation.
Larry Bowden spoke about refugee resettlement, opening by asking conference members to imagine what it might feel like to get on a plane for the first time, having lost all their possessions, and fly for many hours to a new and strange land, which will become their new homes. Ministry with refugees is deeply embedded in the Methodist tradition. There is information on the conference website for congregations and leaders.
Erin Roesch spoke for Criminal Justice and Mercy Ministries, urging the conference to be in ministry for those in or returning from prison or jail and their families. Each church is asked to tie a purple ribbon around a tree in front of the church as a sign of welcome to all God’s people, including those coming home from prison and their families and to offer community and connection.
Communications Director Derek Leek spoke via video about the Communications ministry of the annual conference, including ECHO (Every Church Online), Every Day Grace magazine and television show, and to encourage members to connect with the conference via website, email, and social media.
Christine Dodson brought the Nominations report, with some modifications from the committee and from the floor. Extensive changes were made to the Hispanic/Latino ministry team by the team itself, to better facilitate their work. The report, as amended, was approved. Ken Ripley encouraged the committee to consider including disability as they consider other ways to ensure diverse membership and participation in the conference’s committees and ministries.
George Speake brought the statistician’s report, reflecting a decline in almost all reported categories from 2015 to 2014. There were fewer baptisms, professions of faith, reception of members and transfers more to other denominations.Total membership for 2015 has declined 1,101 from 2014 to 228,611. The average worship attendance was 74,450 or 2,446 less than 2014. The full report can be found in the Conference Workbook. Conference churches spent a total of $177,692,705 in ministry and mission during 2015, one area in which there was an increase.
Reporting for the Academy of Leadership Excellence, Bill Gattis and AFLE Program Director Judy Stephens introduced the members of Cohort 2 of Project Bountiful, a collaboration of the annual conference, The Duke Endowment, and the AFLE, to develop leadership in smaller rural churches. These members came forward to lay hands on members of Cohort 3 as the bishop led a prayer for them.
* 2016 New Faith Communities:
1. Rolesville Campus of Wake Forest UMC – Tyler Williams
2. Union Campus of All God’s Children – Amanda Brown
3. Colerain Campus of All God’s Children – Cheryl Bowen
4. Enfield Campus of All God’s Children – Laura Early
5. Crossroads West Fayetteville Campus – Nick Rich & Annette Ethridge
6. Frog Level Missional Community with St. James: Greenville – Ryan Dunn