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.
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?
“Welcoming,” says Craig Catlett of United Methodist Communications, “is bringing the friendly to the people.” It’s not as simple as meeting people at the door with a bulletin, handshake, and a smile anymore; churches have to communicate their values and presence clearly, both inside and outside the church building.
First impressions are the beginning of welcoming. Churches should use images and words that powerfully share what kind of church they are and what their priorities are, both within the church and in advertising outside the church. Effective communication also includes being mindful of nonverbal cues: body language, the intonations and volume of one’s voice, how both members and visitors occupy space, eye contact, touch, and other forms of communication. Signage and advertising inside and outside the building should be clear, easy to read, and avoid insider language. Church websites, which are generally the first point of contact for adults seeking a church, should be high-quality, informative, and consistent with the church’s values and priorities.
Knowing the community around the church is key to reaching new people. Churches can use demographic information such as that available from MissionInsite through the annual conference to understand the economic, religious, racial, ethnic, and age makeup of their area and begin to understand and connect with real needs. Millennials and seekers want to help those who are hurting, want to feel a sense of community and belonging, appreciate insightful teaching and preaching, are attracted by a passion for peace and justice, and are concerned about poverty, human trafficking, racial issues, and immigration reform. Welcoming churches engage these needs.
Using research from the Barna Group and UMCOM surveys, Catlett pointed out that the highest values in common among United Methodists clergy, leaders, and members include an emphasis on God’s grace, an open communion table, and a strong scriptural foundation. Connecting the values above to these United Methodist values can be a fruitful means of engaging the community. Viewing service as a form of welcome allows Millennials and seekers to connect with God’s grace as they help others. Additionally, welcoming people into the church for purposes other than worship can help seekers become more comfortable with the idea of becoming a part of a church. Suggestions included workshops on grief, addiction, health care, and other items of interest to the community, hosting community programs like tutoring, and community gardening.
Connecting welcoming to generosity, Catlett reminded session members that “how we treat people, how we give money to others, is part of our connectional nature,” and that as United Methodists, the North Carolina conference consistently pays 100% of connectional apportionments, funding ministry and missions locally and globally in ways individual churches could not. Christopher Chapman, a student at UNC Pembroke, spoke about how Special Sunday giving for United Methodist Student Day funds a scholarship that allows him to pursue his passion for medicine without feeling pressure to sacrifice school, church, and opportunities for service to take a second job. Catlett encouraged churches to use the joyfully2UMC app to increase online giving to churches.
People who have served in the military can be invisible in congregations and communities. Unless they wear their USS Enterprise cap or stand when invited to at a worship service near July 4, we may not know about their service. In fact, 10 percent of our neighbors are veterans, and North Carolina has the most veterans or military personnel per capita of any state in the US. Seventy-five percent of current military and veterans belong to the millennial generation, and many millennials do not attend church or speak the language of faith.
Everyone who deploys loses something, whether it is a battle buddy, a marriage, or the ability to feel safe. Vietnam vets, sadly, lost their country on top of all their other losses. Many veterans from that conflict continue to suffer feelings of abandonment and loss because of the way they were treated when they returned home. War steals many things from those who serve in one. War steals joy; war steals hope; war steals peace.
Twenty-two percent of homeless people served in the military. Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day in 42 states. Eight states do not participate in this statistical reporting, so we can assume many more commit suicide every day across the United States.
Where can communities of faith intersect with the military community? There are 1.1 million caregivers of post-9/11 veterans. Persons caring for a person with a brain injury or severe PTSD, probably will not have time to cut their grass and go grocery shopping. As a Church, we know how to care for people. Supporting and loving caregivers would be an amazing way to share God’s love with the military community.
A non-veteran may not understand the deep pain a veteran carries. Whether you are a veteran or not, listen with your heart. Often the mental health community does not incorporate spirituality into mental health care. However, people of faith, have a language to deal with fear, guilt, and why bad things happen.
Listen to veterans without questions and without judgement. Could we provide free babysitting for military families so the spouse who stays home can go to the grocery store without kids or so the military person and spouse could have a date night? Often service members qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program because of their low salaries. Could the church reach out and let them know about food pantries in churches? What military service member or veteran could be empowered to lead a ministry to military folks? Most military service members have had much leadership training and opportunity to lead.
Prayerfully consider how to interact with veterans and military service members in our communities. It takes more than playing the Navy Hymn on Memorial Day or July 4. The church must meet them with open hearts, minds, and doors. Be intentional to reach out to this group of people who may feel abandoned by the Church and by God.
A resource the presenter, Chaplain David Smith, recommended is the book, War and the Soul by Dr. Ed Tick.
Staff of the United Methodist Foundation, Inc., presented a workshop focused on different ways generosity is demonstrated in giving through annual income, accumulated assets and estate gifts.
Participants learned how an endowment ministry can actually increase annual giving, what motivates people to give and how to recognize those who are likely to make a planned gift. Workshop leaders Rev. Reggie Ponder and Lauralee Bailey helped participants envision their churches and communities decades in the future and learned how to set a course for ministry to be funded for future generations.
“What do you think of when you think about stewardship?”
This question was posed by Taylor Mills, who helped lead the breakout session ‘Full Life Stewardship’. The answers were varied – time, money, talents, and communications. Four presenters – Taylor Mills, Tyler Williams, LaNella Smith, and Lynn Benson – each led a discussion on the various aspects of stewardship, lived through the life of the church and the congregation.
Mills helped the group think of stewardship in broad terms – being about much more than money. Planning, education, spiritual gifts, taking care of one another – these and many more examples were shared as ways we put stewardship into practice. The group was asked about their calendar, and their ways of tracking money – through a checkbook register, wallet, or banking app. These are the things that reveal our true stewardship.
A discussion of time and talents revolved around gifts discernment, and using God’s generosity of gifts as we better understand how those gifts can be used. The local church can encourage people to use their gifts to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, both as a church and as a congregation. Examples offered included a Spiritual Gifts Assessment offered without charge from the conference office (contact Christine Harmon) and a congressional day of service. A congregational day of service builds excitement and community, and can often serve as an entry point for service.
“God’s first gift of a planet on which to live requires us to take care of it.” Williams led a discussion of creation care, referencing Psalm 24:1 and Colossians 1:15-16. Caring for God’s creation brings glory to God and expresses gratitude for his provision. Some examples discussed were preaching, teaching, and understanding the impact of basic changes in our lifestyle on our environment. We can also incorporate creation care into our missional activities of the church, with activities such as a community garden and community or neighborhood cleanup. We can also model creation care in our daily lives.
Smith asked “Who is our neighbor?” This question opened a discussion of the parable of the Good Samaritan, noting that loving neighbor is both social and economic. This parable reminds us who our neighbor is, and poses the question of “Who am I?” along with “Who is my neighbor”. Smith shared a quote from Tracy Earl Welliver, “Stewardship is a decision to love and it takes intentional work to keep the flame going”. We are called to steward many things – on of them is our relationship with God with out hearts, our minds, and our souls. To maximize love in stewarding our relationships, we are encouraged to invest in people, know ourselves, pray for our relationships, and pursue Jesus to pursue others.
Benson led a lively discussion of finances and generosity, suggesting that this is where our priorities show up in tangible ways. Psalm 24:1 says “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” Growing generosity is a year-round practice of growing faith and trust in God, and practicing discipleship through stewardship. Benson shared a model for church budgets by showing a tricycle. The front wheel is the pulling wheel – this is the mission wheel that ‘pulls’ and propels forward motion. The other two wheels are support items – one for staff and training, and one for maintaining mission space, such as buildings and utilities.
Several resources were offered to assist with discussions of full life stewardship, and the group was reminded that many times the best resource for leading conversations is a person within the local congregation who is passionate about stewardship.