If you attended the 2016 Annual Conference session in Greenville, please take a moment and complete the short survey. We appreciate your time and for sharing your thoughts. Please click here.
Have you been asked to make a report to your congregation about Annual Conference? Couldn’t attend Annual Conference this year and want to find out what happened? Don’t worry. The Saddlebag newsletters are online. The Saddlebag gives you a fingertip source for the reports and the decisions made at Annual Conference and some highlights from the worship services.
A bold move was made by Dr. Zack Johnson 60 years ago on the floor of General Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After a great deal of debate, discussion, amendments, and amendments to the amendments, Dr. Johnson went on to the floor and said “I move that we amend the substitute motion by changing the phraseology so that paragraph 313 will read as follows: ‘women are included in the foregoing provisions, and may apply as candidates for the traveling ministry as provided for in Chapter 3 of the Discipline.’” This statement changed the lives of all women who have felt called by God to serve in ordained ministry.
The strength of ordained clergywomen began slowly, but today there are nearly 10,000 clergywomen doing ministry across the globe. In the North Carolina Conference, there are nearly 300 clergywomen.
The first women to be ordained elders in the North Carolina Conference were Gladys Williford and Helen Crotwell in 1975. Helen Crotwell later became the first female district superintendent in the North Carolina Conference.
Others recognized on June 18, at the North Carolina Annual Conference were the longest tenured clergywoman: Gayla Collins, with 39 years; the first woman clergy elected a delegate to General Conference: Ruth Harper Stevens, elected in 1984; the first female bishop from the NC Conference: Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, elected in 2004; and the youngest clergywoman being ordained: Sara Beth Pannell.
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward and Conference Secretary Jerry Bryan announced that Annual Conference 2017 is scheduled as a weekend conference. The gathering convenes Friday morning, June 16 and concludes mid-day on Sunday, June 18.
Upon Bryan’s recommendation at Annual Conference 2015, the body voted to meet at the Greenville Convention Center in 2016-18 in order to be able to book the conference center on the preferred dates as many centers book years in advance.
Bishop Ward explained that the decision to move to a weekend format is to make service as a lay member of Annual Conference “more accessible” for those who work during the week. “We hope this will increase the number of younger professionals who can be a part of Annual Conference,” she said. In addition, the decision was also made to help part-time Local Pastors who have employment elsewhere during the week.
The bishop said that resources are being developed to help educate local churches about Annual Conference and to help churches make use of the conference’s network of certified Lay Speakers to preach in local churches on June 18 while the Annual Conference clergy and lay members are concluding the business of the meeting and for the Ordering of Ministry worship service on Sunday morning.
The last order of business for Annual Conference 2016 was the ordering of ministry service on Saturday morning. Special music was provided by the Edenton Street UMC Choir and Brass Ensemble. Bishop Ward was the preacher and used the biblical text from John 20:19-29 as the foundation for the sermon. It was in this encounter with the risen Jesus that he breathed on the frightened disciples and told them to “receive the Holy Spirit.”
As part of her ecumenical ministry, Bishop Ward is the presiding bishop for the Methodist Initiative in Vietnam and during a visit there in February, she heard the
story of a woman who had been born in Vietnam to a Vietnamese mother and an American soldier father. As an infant, she was turned over to an adoption agency, which brought her to the United States. She grew up in America.
As she grew older, she began to long to go find her birth village and possibly her birth mother, realizing that the search would be very difficult with so little information. She traveled to Vietnam and with the assistance of a guide, she visited several villages with no luck. But one day, while sitting and drinking coffee, she looked up and saw her guide running towards her with a woman, and not only one woman, but the whole village, was running towards her. Her mother embraced her and the whole village embraced her, telling her they had been longing and praying for the day when she would come home.
“Can you imagine a whole village running towards you in welcome? … What if the Church of Jesus Christ ran toward the world the way that village ran toward that woman as she came home? That is our calling. That is our challenge. That is our joy and that is our destiny because we are lovers of the one with nail-print hands and feet and gashed sides, who is alive forevermore and who says to us on this day, ‘Peace be with you! Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Ninety-two persons were recognized, blessed, and sent out in ministry during this service – 20 lay missioners, one home missioner, one deaconess, 37 licensed local pastors, two ordained deacons, 17 provisional members, and 14 elders in full connection.
During Saturday morning’s session, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward recognized the new appointments in each of the eight districts. These new appointments included local church appointments as well as those appointed to various extension ministries. A total of 152 clergy received new appointments, which they will assume on July 1, 2016.
Bishop Hope also gave thanks for Bob Bauman’s service as district superintendent of the Harbor District and introduced Edith Lee Gleaves as the new Harbor district superintendent.
The Friday evening worship service began with soul-stirring music delivered by the choir from Prospect United Methodist Church in Maxton. The music set the tone for a celebratory event of the ministries of the laity. The Order of Deacons led the worship service.
Guest preacher, Bishop Gregory Palmer presented a plaque to Bishop Hope Morgan Ward and Gary Locklear, Conference Lay Leader to celebrate the conference effort on behalf of Imagine No Malaria which raised almost $1,121,000.
There was discussion of the Mission of Hope for Sierra Leone which deals with the rebuilding of Rotifunk Hospital in Sierra Leone to serve to over 145,000 people. It was apparent in the presentation that this ministry would take more than just financial assistance; the true need is “hands” to change the plight of the people in Sierra Leone especially the morbidity and mortality rates of children and infants. The 70 percent level of illiteracy has a direct impact upon gainful employment that could be utilized to help pull the country and its people out of abject poverty but also provides an opportunity for the Church to be in practical life-changing ministry.
The stage was set for Bishop Palmer’s sermon, using Luke 24:28-32 as the biblical foundation. Bishop Palmer reiterated that each person needs to live into the fact that everyone they meet is a beloved child of God. The question was posed that if people who we encounter for the first time would leave with the impression that they were beloved and treasured.
Bishop Palmer also reminded the gathered that Christians are to be the Church and to not spend time trying to save the church. The Church belongs to God and only God can change the church. This sermon set the tone to reinvigorate and reorient the thinking of both the laity and clergy to understand that the Gospel is a gift to be shared and to realize that we all are the beloved of God.
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
The conference was blessed with a video I Am Called, which interprets the ministry of Deacons. Deacons are called to help, called to Word, service, justice and compassion; called to move beyond the walls, to be the hands and feet of Jesus and lead others; called to see where God has worked, is working and will be working in the future; called to teaching; called to connect members with community, to create community around the Table; and to take the Table of Love and Faith into the world.
The presentation ended asking: Where Is God Calling You?
The NCC delegation announced Friday that the nominee for the office of bishop is the Rev. Leonard E. Fairley. Annual Conference members stood to endorse Fairley as nominee for the office of Bishop in the Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church. Election of bishops takes place during the SE Jurisdictional Conference this summer at Lake Junaluska.
In his acceptance, Fairley shared,
“There are no words to even begin to let you know the sense of great humility and honor that is coursing through my spirit right now. The closest I words I can come to are the words that Bishop Palmer used last night, ‘What is it that you have that you have not received?’”
“You are my family. You are the hands that have made miracles work in my life and in the life across this annual conference. I know that there are many difficult days ahead and many obstacles that we must face, but I just have the audacity to believe that the best years of the church are not behind it. It is in front of us. I have the audacity to believe this: in the words of my wife, Priscilla, ‘If we can just see the possibilities and live the promise, because even a miracle needs a hand.’ You have no idea of the miracles God has worked in my life, and this is one of them.”
“Again, I am honored and blessed beyond measure to know of a generous God whose grace is so abundant that he would give his life for somebody like me and then afford me this honor and this privilege. ….. This is a time that God’s will shall be done.”