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.”
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 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.
Steve Taylor, Executive Director, gave the report for Connectional Ministries by beginning with thanks for the ministry of Terry Hunt. Terry has been the Leadership Team Coordinator for the past six years.
“The North Carolina Conference has been gifted by the deep faith and strong leadership of the one who has held key leadership in his role of Leadership Team Coordinator,” said Taylor. “He has cast vision, provided training, been an incredibly effective congregational coach, pastored his own small church, and helped us engage at ever deeper levels the important work of dismantling racism and leadership development.”
The Rev. Ernesto Bariguette was introduced as the new director for Multicultural Ministries. Reports were heard from Bryan Heymans, chair of Church & Society, Bruce Skipper, chair of Evangelism, Christi Dye, chair of the newly-formed Commission on the Status and Role of Women (COSROW), and Eldrick Davis, chair of Strengthening the Black Church.
Taylor then shared the progress of Shift. “The purpose of Shift is to assist congregations, moving from their strengths, to engage ministries of ever deepening vitality in ways that are relevant to their local settings. Shift is not a program, it is simply a process. We will once again extend an invitation to twelve congregations to engage in the Shift process of seeking fuller vitality, more engaged outreach, worship as lifestyle, and deeper discipleship. We will soon post invitation on Threads and the Conference website.”
The Cokesbury store will be open 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Saturday and from 8-10 a.m. on Sunday.
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Bishop Kenneth Monroe of the Eastern District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Zion (AMEZ), NC Superintendent of Instruction, Mark Johnson, and Bishop Paul Leeland of the Western Carolina Conference each spoke to encourage and inspire congregations to join the state-wide initiative to help public school children living in poverty, Congregations for Children, and to thank those districts and congregations already involved in this partnership.
Bishop Monroe talked about the great need for church and community partnerships to meet the needs of children and spoke of already being in conversations with the Methodist Home for Children. Strong children, spiritually, morally, academically, psychologically, and healthwise, will build strong communities in the future Johnson thanked the churches across the state for making children a priority. “Education is the great equalizer of opportunities. If we can ensure that all students have that equal shot at a great education, we can fulfill our moral obligation. We have a moral obligation to every student that they have an equal opportunity to succeed.”
Bishop Ward noted that the partnership with the Eastern District of the AMEZ can be witnessed the Harbor and Sound Districts where congregations are already working together to fulfill the focus and mission of C4C:
- Helping to improve K-3 Literacy rates (volunteer tutors, collecting/donating books, summer reading programs, etc.)
- Helping to meet the Basic Needs of students (food, clothing, supplies, etc.)
- Helping to increase Parental Involvement (and interactions with positive adult role models – i.e., Watch DOGS, lunch buddies etc.)
Greg Jones, former dean of Duke Divinity School shared a challenging word with us about “God’s Great Generosity” in the first of two presentations before the conference.
Beginning with a Charlie Brown/Lucy conversation, Jones said that sometimes the world makes us feel so small that giving up seems our only option. However, when we listen to the negative voices of the world, we lose sight of what is possible. We forget that the story begins, not with humanity, but with God’s love. That active love created the world and humanity in a beautiful and generous way.
Jones continued by looking at the Book of Genesis. In the first eleven chapters, God continually says, “yes” while humanity responds, “no.” We, and the Israelites, act like 2-year olds do, saying “me,” “mine,” and “no!” We see the Israelites, just like a 2-year old, spend much time complaining about the food and about the journey.
We face similar challenges with the church’s journey. Jones described with wry humor, the “Back to Egypt” Committee, those who began grumbling and thinking that maybe it wasn’t so bad back in Egypt after all. Many of us have similar “Back to Egypt” committees in our own churches. If we are honest with ourselves, we admit that the same “Back to Egypt” committee resides in our hearts. We complain about life and forget about God’s abundant and generous future.
Easter Sunday gives us a different narrative. With the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God again tells us just the opposite of “me,” “mine,” and “no.” God says “we,” “ours,” and “yes.”
As United Methodists, we are part of that narrative. When people say “no,” we say, “Yes, we can build that hospital in Rotifunk.” We say, “Yes, we will build that Valpariso University, even as the Civil War looms close.”
Jones closed with a prayer that his friend Maggy Barankitse in Burundi prays every day: “Lord, let your miracles break forth every day! Let me not be an obstacle in any way!”
The Annual Conference body expressed their “Generosity in All Places” through a special offering Friday supporting the conference Mission Endowment Fund. During the morning session, Gary Locklear, NC Conference Lay Leader shared that the offering would help with recovery efforts following Hurricane Matthew, which affected 26,000 homes last fall.
“Today, more than 2000 families in NC are homeless, and they need our help,” said Locklear. “So the Mission Endowment is set aside this year help those residents of eastern North Carolina find refuge, to get back to their homes – the places that they love.” The generous gifts made by Annual Conference members and guests raised $15,535. Thank you!
Friday afternoon, the Academy for Leadership Excellence announced that it will transform into a new Center for Leadership Excellence under Connectional Ministries of the North Carolina Conference. This center will continue the work of the Academy and also guide the leadership efforts of offices within the North Carolina Conference. Bishop Ward spoke about the similar visions and techniques of the Academy and the Conference.
Leah Wiebe-Smith, Associate Director of the Academy, was introduced as the Director of the new Center for Leadership Excellence. She spoke about what she has learned from her service to the Academy and her enthusiasm for continuing this work with the Conference.
The Academy for Leadership Excellence has offered outstanding events and programs to grow the leadership of ecumenical clergy and laity in North Carolina. Larry Coats, founding board member, gave thanks to all who have supported the Academy since its inception in 2008. During this time, the Academy trained participants in 37 Days of Learning, 39 churches and 280 clergy and laity in Project Bountiful, 70 churches and 140 fellows in Leadership Fellows, three years and 700 attendees of the Preaching Festival, five years and 160 attendees of Large Church Pastors/Staff Retreats, and 21 Transitional Intentional Interim Ministers.
In May 2017, Project Bountiful was completed. This visionary program saw the revitalization of 48 rural churches and communities across the NC Conference with partial funding from the Duke Endowment.
The Academy also graduated a class of 20 Leadership Fellows. The Leadership Fellows Program operated on a two-year cycle where clergy and laity were trained in practical skills in personal and church leadership.