1443 United Methodists gathered at the Greenville Convention Center June 14-16 for the North Carolina Conference Session focused on the theme “Generosity in All Creation.”
Conference members celebrated the 50th anniversary of the United Methodist Church with ice cream, hula hoops, and a rain shower. A combined gospel choir from Beauty Spot, St. George, and Piney Grove churches in the Gateway District had worshipers standing and singing along. Bishop Hope Morgan Ward and the Reverend Alfred Day, General Secretary of the Commission on Archives & History, took us back to 1968. They recounted some of the turbulent events of that year, giving some cultural perspective around the unification of the Evangelical United Brethren and the Methodist Church and the dissolution of the Central Jurisdiction. Day pointed out that amid current divisions within our denomination, we can live into the prayer of Albert Outler in 1968: “Lord of the Church, we are united in Thee and in Thy Church.”
Bishop Jonathan Holston, episcopal leader of the South Carolina Conference, delivered an inspirational sermon, “For God’s Purpose” on II Corinthians 4:5–12. “The Church is not a fragile piece of crystal,” he declared. “It stands on a firm foundation. The Church has withstood whatever has been thrown at it. There will not be a United Methodist Church if Jesus is not the center of our joy.”
Friday morning, members attended one of eight breakout sessions on a variety of topics: immigration and the Church, Congregations for Children, creation care, generosity and leadership in a multi-cultural world, resurrection in rural churches, the work of the Commission on A Way Forward, Our Sister’s Keeper #metoo/sexual harassment, and Sabbath Living.
The Service of Memorial and Communion honored 19 clergy and 18 clergy spouses who have died since the last Annual Conference. The Reverend Tim Russell delivered the message from Psalm 137, particularly verse 4, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” He described how families are cast into “a strange land” when a loved one dies. There can be anger, and the “new normal” is not normal at all. So we lean on our memories and our faith: our loved ones were gifts from God, and their lives in ministry matter to God and to us.
Financial reports were presented Friday afternoon. The conference celebrated that 91.49% of 2017 apportionments were met and the conference paid 100% to the General Church. A budget request of $21,081,957 for the 2020 annual conference budget was approved, a 1.95% decrease from the approved 2019 budget. After changing a recommendation from requiring mail order service for maintenance prescription drugs to encouraging mail order, the health insurance plan was approved for 2019 including a 5% rate increase over 2018, with the addition of cost shopping incentive programs and a requirement for precertification of diagnostic imaging services.
The Reverend Julie Hager Love, a clergy member of the Kentucky Conference and a member of the Commission on A Way Forward, shared the work of the Commission and the process and proposed timeline toward the called General Conference in February 2019. Throughout the process, she said, the members of the Commission came to realize that while the vote itself is important, their behavior is even more so. Love offered what she and the Commission members have learned: “To prepare for the unknown, we must tend to the quality of relationships.”
The Reverend Pat Watkins, a retired missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries for the Care of God’s Creation, presented a study on creation, using the experiences of Job. Job believed that God created the earth and all in it for Job’s benefit. His wealth was a gift for living a good life. When he loses family, wealth and health, he demands an explanation from God. God spends four chapters challenging Job’s perception of the purpose of creation. God is adamant that creation was created and is controlled by God and not humanity. As Watkins stated, “The human species is not the only one God cares about.” In the end, Job understands his place in the greater context of God’s creation. Watkins invited lay and clergy members into ministries of creation care by using as examples a number of conference churches lessening their environmental footprint, while caring for God’s creation.
Conference and District lay leaders led in honoring eight unique district ministries. The Youth Address was given by the Conference Youth President, Caroline McCartney. The celebration also highlighted the faithful work of Certified Lay Ministers and the servant leadership of Conference Lay Leader, Gary Locklear.
Friday evening’s worship celebrated children’s ministries. The Reverend Bruce Stanley, CEO/President of the Methodist Home for Children, Pat Litzinger, conference coordinator for Congregations for Children, and Dr. Meghan Doyle, superintendent of the Craven County School system, brought messages with personal examples of how important churches and volunteers are to children and the public schools. The overwhelming message from these speakers is that one important relationship with an adult can change the trajectory of a child’s life. 85% of conference churches have partnerships with neighboring public schools.
The conference was then blessed by the Asbury Children’s Choir from First UMC: Cary as they presented the musical, In the Image, by Mark Burrows. The children pondered what it means to be created in the image of God and through humorous, earnest exploration, discovered that being created in the image of God isn’t about physical appearance but about the attributes of God, particularly creativity, that show forth in your life.
The last day of Annual Conference began with Bible study led by Bishop Holston, using
Isaiah 6:1-6 as the scriptural text. He urged all to see and confess as Isaiah did what we really are – people in need of love, mercy, and grace. “As we journey together, we can be better people when we are interacting with each other and not fighting with each other.”
The conference considered four resolutions. A resolution asking for conference support and encouragement for cross-racial and cross-cultural appointments passed with no changes. Conference youth submitted a resolution which strongly encourages each charge conference to select at least one delegate to the Annual Conference Session for Youth and have this name included in charge conference reports. It was accepted with an amendment to encourage church finance committees to include scholarship money for youth to attend ACS. The Methodist Federation for Social Action resolution asked the conference to call on the North Carolina General Assembly to enact concrete measures to protect children and the public from gun violence. The resolution passed with two amendments – to add language sending the resolution to all members of the 2019-2020 General Assembly and striking the “whereas” encouraging churches to display signs banning firearms on church property. A resolution submitted by Rev. Dr. John M. Crowe dealt with church evaluation was referred to the Bishop and Cabinet.
The conference ended with the fixing of appointments, followed by the Ordering of Ministry service, a time when 85 persons were credentialed, commissioned or ordained to Christ’s ministry. 27 persons were licensed for pastoral ministry, 23 were commissioned probationary elders, three were commissioned Deaconesses, 15 were certified as Lay Missioners, three were ordained deacons in full connection, and 14 were ordained elders in full connection. The average age of our commissioned elders/deacons was 37. The average age of our ordained elders/deacons was also 37.
- 35 voting youth members attended Annual Conference.
- The total reported membership for 2017 stands at 226,310, a decrease of 13 from 2016.
- The average worship attendance in 2017 was 70,054, a decrease of 3,102.
- Three offerings were received during the conference: $15,630 for the conference Missions Endowment, $5,764 for Laity Ministries, and $6,455 for the Central Conference Theological Endowment Fund.
- The Board of Trustees reported the closure of seven churches.
- The Conference honored with appreciation the ministry of 28 persons who entered retired status.
- 109 church/charges received pastoral appointment changes.
- The 2019 Annual Conference will meet in Greenville on dates to be determined by the Bishop and Cabinet.
View articles and video from Annual Conference 2018 at https://nccumc.org/ac2018/. See what others were saying by searching #nccac18 on social media.