If you attended the 2017 Annual Conference in Greenville, North Carolina, please take a few minutes to complete the online survey, here.
The conference voted to return to Greenville for 2018 upon the recommendation of the Rev. Jerry Bryan, Conference Secretary. Bishop Hope Morgan Ward invited the conference members to share feedback about the impact of the session finishing on a Sunday and also ending on Father’s Day. The Bishop will consult with the Annual Conference Planning Team and Cabinet before setting the dates for 2018.
North Carolina-based playwright Mike Wiley performed an embodiment of Tim Tyson’s memoir, Blood Done Sign My Name, to round out the evening performances during the 2017 NC Annual Conference. With song, humor, and a sack full of characters, one man, Wiley brought a poignant and living history of life in the 1960’s in Oxford to the Conference stage.
With interactive precision, Wiley and singer, Mary D. Williams, presented and coaxed the audience into singing songs and chants of the civil rights era with gusto in a mastery of encouragement and humor to further populate a witness to this history.
Tyson observes, “Wiley’s great gift is that he can find a way to get to the core meaning of a story and thread it through the artful fabric of drama.”
Threading this artful fabric of drama between the past and present, black and white, and politics and religion, Wiley brought to life the characters and their relationships in the common life of the local community of Oxford, punctuated by black gospel performed by Williams.
Providing the back story for the play and its coming into being, Tyson notes, “I just knew that this (play) was supposed to be. His first draft was four hours long. He listened to every oral tape and has each character down. Even though he plays every character, you always know which character is speaking.”
Based in Oxford, the true story of the 1970 murder of African-American Vietnam veteran Richard “Dickie” Marrow, the trial of three white men, and the protests that followed, this one-man play presents with clarity and relevance the facts of Tyson’s memoir. Marrow, just 23 and awaiting his wife’s delivery of their third daughter, was beaten and shot to death after being accused of looking at a white woman.
Wiley set the stage for the trial court, enlivening witnesses, jury, and officials in the trial, including graphic description of the evidence. Even though Roger Oakley confessed to the murder, he was never indicted. Robert Teel and his son, Larry, were indicted and received acquittals by an all-white jury.
As a playwright and performer, Wiley focuses upon people and events that shape American history, such as Jackie Robinson, Emmett Till, slave Abraham Galloway, and Brown v. Board of Education. “Mike takes the story and captures the heart; and with the magic of his art makes it come alive in a way that is hard for words on paper to do,” muses Tyson as he reflects upon Wiley’s many one man acts.
Wiley explains the reason for his writing and performing Blood Done Sign My Name, “…our freedom and dignity, if we still have any, has been paid for in blood, that we have a contract with our ancestors not to let their sacrifices be in vain.” Tyson writes, “This is about mending the broken world through the power of story, and making scholarship and art speak to the breach in our common life. I am proud to have Mike as a colleague in those efforts.”
“The Spirit is always moving to sweep the Church into a new mission age. With openness and gratitude we await the leading of the Spirit in ways not yet seen.…” — Global Ministries Mission Theology Statement
Thomas Kemper, General Secretary at the General Board of Global Ministries, led the conference in a conversation about Generous Missions, beginning with the above Mission Theology Statement.
Knowing that God is already at work, our goal is to discover where God is already at work and join into God’s mission (missio Dei) to reconcile the world and invite them into communion with Christ.
What we are discovering is the mission is coming from the margins. “By 2050, one in four Christians will live in sub-Sahara Africa. China already has the third largest Christian population in the world.”
The world is changing; how will we lean into this major shift in Christendom?
The Global Ministries has more than 30 countries represented in their Atlanta office working together to serve the world. Each area is staffed by those indigenous to that culture in order to be able to serve them effectively.
Dr. Kemper highlighted the work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Founded in 1940, it was originally created to serve refugees and those impacted by the emerging global conflict. UMCOR (umcor.org) is a vital part of the overall mission of Global Ministries to unite disaster relief and impact those during crisis with spiritual care.
Global migration and refugee issues are again a primary concern of Global Ministries with the ongoing conflicts of the Middle East. It has always been the call of the Christian community to serve those who have been displaced. Christianity finds its origin in the Old Testament as a displaced people.
Jesus himself fled to Egypt to escape persecution. It is important that the Christian church, and The United Methodist Church especially, welcome and advocate for those who are displaced by war and persecution.
Human migration has also been used by God to reach new people. Migrants who traveled to the US or other countries and embraced faith through Methodist churches and then felt called to return to their home countries are spreading the gospel of love and hope that transformed their lives across the globe.
Other initiatives include:
- The Center for Mission Innovation (CMI) which aims to provide a laboratory for the Church to learn best practices and new innovations in both local and global missions. Learn more at centerformissioninnovation.org.
- Generation Transformation – a ministry that provides opportunities for mission volunteers and Global Mission Fellows who are 20-30 years old. More information can be found at umcmission.org/Get-Involved/Generation-Transformation.
To learn more about United Methodist missions visit UMCMission.org.
On Saturday afternoon, the Rev. George Speake, Conference Statistician, reported statistics for 2016, noting that 2,378 new members were received by profession of faith which is 428 fewer than 2015.
In addition, 1,727 new members were received from other United Methodist Churches and 1,248 from other denominations, both being less than 2015. The total conference membership at the end of 2016 was 226,323, down by 2,288.
Churches continue to audit their roles and as a result, the total membership number is falling. One large church removed 1,803 “numbers” from their rolls; that is, “there was never a person associated with these numbers.” Speake emphasized the necessity of accurate record keeping and reporting for the Tables.
During 2015, our churches spent a slightly more than $21.9 million on building improvements and slightly more than $12 million on debt retirement. Both categories were higher than the previous year. $183,798,543 was the grand total spent by all churches in the conference.
One major emphasis of the report was reminding all members of the annual conference that accurate reporting is a necessity.
All the monies reported on Table II have an impact on the local church apportionment calculations. Speake said all pastors will receive their 2018 Apportionment Report by late July.
The local church finance team should review this report for potential errors before charge conference. He stated that if a church experiences a significant increase in apportionments, he is always available to assist rectifying any possible reporting errors.
On a final note, Speake gave thanks to Douglas Ward, NC Conference Informational Technology Director and his work on rewriting the Online Data Collection System with emphasis on streamlining the Table collection module and reporting tools.
The Commission on A Way Forward was proposed by the Council of Bishops and approved by the 2016 General Conference to do a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church. Bishop Hope Morgan Ward presented a summary report and video featuring commission members to the Annual Conference on Saturday.
This Commission is charged to design a way for the church that maximizes the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible, allows for as much contextual differentiation as possible, and balances an approach to different theological understandings of human sexuality with a desire for as much unity as possible.
As the commission has gathered, they have experienced prayer, listened to one another, established new friendships, built trust and respect for one another, and formed an open and honest community within their diversity. They share a “Good Spirit” with people who are in love with Christ and the church and report a season that is “hope-filled” as people of God within the UMC.
In 1998, Bill Braswell created the opportunity for the NC Conference lay and clergy to gather and to be in dialogue. For 19 years, many have gathered for the Unity Dialogue. Since the General Conference, 700 laity and clergy met in 50 Circles of Abundant Grace throughout the NCC to engage in additional open and honest conversations.
Following Bishop Ward’s video and presentation of the General Conference Commission on A Way Forward, founded to acknowledge the “climate of skepticism and distrust,” around human sexuality and unity, Conflict Transformation Ministries Director, the Rev. Molly Shivers, reported that 50 Circles of Abundant Grace convened through January of 2017 to participate in the NC Conference conversations.
Shivers reported that the circles engaged in the work against the background of “possibility of a denominational split.” The purpose of the circles were “to teach and embody honest, respectful conversation in the local church setting about an important issue.”
Small groups that totaled 700 participants gathered to focus on two questions: “What would you like to say and hear in the UMC concerning human sexuality?” and “How do you think the UMC can move forward in its witness on human sexuality?” As circle participants reflected on the nature and role of Scripture, the ongoing role of Christ’s teaching and the power of the Holy Spirit the question of how and where we could be changed. How and where may we be changed by ongoing revelation?
The Laity Report began with a message from the Conference Youth President, Andrew Thrash. Thrash related how his personal journey of faith has been nurtured and strengthened through the loving connections he has made through the conference youth events. “We are so frequently reminded the youth are the future of the church but are we not the present too? We are the church together right now, so let’s live together right now.”
The Laity report moved on to a game show, Laity in Ministry, hosted by Jay Locklear, with his assistant, Vanna White (aka Andrew Thrash.) Three puzzles were presented to introduce and celebrate the eight district lay ministries of the year. The puzzle solutions were Unique Generosity, Outreach Near and Far, and Turning Sorrow to Joy.
The district lay ministries of the year include:
- Beacon: First UMC, Washington – “The Church Has Left the Building”
- Capital: Soapstone UMC – “Artist-in-Residence”
- Corridor: Haw River UMC – “Port Pillows”
- Fairway: Love Joy UMC – “Sadie Rae Haywood Fund”
- Gateway: Pee Dee UMC – “Good Neighbor Fund”
- Harbor: Whiteville UMC – “Build a Bed”
- Heritage: Englewood UMC – “Peanut Packing Parties”
- Sound: Sharon UMC, Kinston – “Hope Restorations”
In an act of true generosity, $35,694.66 was given toward the Laity Special Offering to help our neighbors restore their lives through NC Conference’s Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts.
On Saturday, the conference body heard from the Resolutions Committee about the three resolutions printed in the conference workbook, and one resolution presented from the floor. Documentation of the final Resolutions will be available at nccumc.org/ac2017 when made available.
The first addressed climate change and urges a number of actions including reduction of CO2 emissions, calls on the U.S. government to support the Paris Climate Accords, urges adoption of a comprehensive energy and land use policy, and urges congregations to adopt conservation programs. After parties spoke for and against the proposed resolution, the question was called, and the resolution was adopted.
The second resolution called for the NC Annual Conference to contact members of Congress to appropriate the full request of $929 million requested by the state for Hurricane Matthew relief. It was adopted without discussion.
The third resolution called for improved road conditions in Johnston County, and was inspired by the death of a youth in the conference. The resolution was submitted for consideration by the 65th Annual Conference Session (ACS) of the United Methodist Youth of the North Carolina Conference. This resolution was amended to broaden both the scope and the distribution of the resolution to include all 100 counties in NC, and the amended resolution was adopted.
A resolution submitted from the floor involved NC Senate Bill 594, which proposed a reorganization of the NC Department of Social Services which could impact “addressing the needs of children, elderly and the poor.” Printed copies of the resolution were distributed on the conference floor. Two friendly amendments to the resolution were accepted, and the amended resolution was adopted.
Greg Moore, Executive Director for New Faith Communities, spoke about watching the conference theme of “Generosity in All Places” being evident throughout the conference this year. Currently, there are 24 New Faith Communities doing ministry in the NCC. The conference has one of the largest programs of all conferences.
“This old work of making new space is alive and well in the North Carolina Conference. Creating new faith communities is not a privilege of the clergy nor just a burden of the laity but it is a shared vocation by all of us by virtue of our baptism. The NFC Office is working to create systems so that everyone in this conference can participate in creating a new faith community. That does not mean that everyone will plant a new church start but it does mean that every church is figuring out how to share in making new space for new people in their community.”
The conference body then stood and prayed for the persons who will be sent out to plant new space for new people: Jason Butler, Wes Neal, Brent Levy, Annette Ethridge, Charles Albright, Michael Williams, Paul Dunham, Brock Meyer, Randy Evans, and Nick Rich.