The report from Connectional Ministries showed a small portion of the depth and breadth of the many ministries in which the conference is engaged and many people took part in the report. The report began on Friday afternoon but because of delegation voting, had to be interrupted and completed on Saturday morning. Below are highlights from each report.
The Connectional Table – Rev. Chris Brady
Rev. Brady reported on the focus of the Connectional Table this past year. The purpose of the Connectional Table is to guide the mission and ministry of the annual conference to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. This past year, the Connectional Table has focused on five areas: healthy congregations, effective leaders, children, anti-racism, and unity.
Creation Care – Rev. Jarrod Davis
Rev. Davis led a conversation about Creation Care. Growing up on a farm, he learned that being on the land is a good thing, and we need to “serve and protect it.” Creation is the Lord’s. We are not owners, merely caretakers. Efforts have begun to reform congregations on the theology of creation, including a “Creation Matters” workshop. The second “Creation Matters” workshop is in August. Climate Advocacy Day in April saw United Methodists talking to state representatives. Church gardens and food banks are networking with one another. The conference is also launching a “Green Church initiative” with more details to come.
Partners in Ministry – Deaconess Melba McCallum
Dr, McCallum shared the story of Partners in Ministry in Scotland County. PIM ministers with the poor, instills hope, and empowers change one family at a time. The mission of PIM is to serve marginalized families throughout the Gateway district in the hopes of improving the quality of life. In March of 2019, PIM was approved as a National Mission Institution of the UM Women.
SBC21 – Rev. Dr. Eldrick Davis
This year for Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century has meant collaborative partnerships, new opportunities for ministry, outreach and expansion, strategic planning, leadership development, and growth. A design team has worked for two years developing an organizational structure to launch mission objectives. Visionary leaders bring unique skills and gifts. Two congregations engaged in the SBC21 partnership model with assigned coaches – John Wesley UMC in Fayetteville and Shepherd’s House in Durham. Working in collaboration with the Center for Leadership Excellence, a new program – “Renew and Connect: Transforming the Black Church” will launch in the fall of 2019.
Center for Leadership Excellence – Ms. Leah Wiebe-Smith
The Center for Leadership Excellence continually seeks partnerships, knowing that sharing resources and experiencing knowledge makes our Methodist connection stronger. CLE has presented four days of learning with well over 300 hundred clergy and laity attending. They have developed eight webinars on various topics in the last year – creation care, innovation, resilience, conflict and practical ministry opportunities.
Working with the Strengthening the Black Church Committee, four Renew and Connect retreats are planned over the next year aiming to sustain and refresh African-American church leaders – Restart and Refresh, Strategic Finances, Change and Innovation, and Taking Care of Self. The content will be developed and delivered by African-American church leaders.
Another initiative is Bold: Women Supporting Women, will be a program with sustained mentorships for clergywomen in the local church, beginning with a retreat Oct 15-17 at Salter Path.
Over 200 clergy and laity have taken part in the Leadership Fellows program. Applications for 2020-21 are due on September 10, 2019.
Anti-Racism – Rev. Ernesto Barriguete
This program has involved many people over many years who have worked to make this a more diverse and inclusive conference. During this past year, the team has worked hard in empowering visible and prophetic leadership at every level of the NC Conference regarding race, ethnicity, and culture. Barriguete urged pastors to encourage and prepare their congregation to be ready to invite diverse leadership into your setting. With the support of the bishop, a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force was created to help provide training and equip leaders with the goal to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people. The vision of dismantling racism is alive in our conference.
Children & Public Education – Bryan Heymans and Mike Ward
United Methodist Advocates for Public Schools (UMAPS), a joint project with the Western North Carolina Conference was formed in 2017 in response to a resolution passed at the NC Annual Conference in 2016 calling for advocacy to improve public education in NC. The mission is to educate congregations of the needs of public education in NC, advocate for public education, and mobilize every congregation to be engaged with public schools.
There are many needs in public education but our four main focuses are: 1) Universal Integrated Pre-K programs to prevent reading deficiencies, reduce the school to prison pipeline, and prevent re-segregation of schools; 2) advocate for equitable state funds for rural schools where school assets may be depleted or in poor condition; 3) compensation to attract and retain excellent teachers and administrators; and 4) School Safety and Disciplinary Procedures including no arming of teachers and reducing punitive student processes that criminalize students. UMAPS has developed strategies and training to help churches and districts advocate for public education.
Mike Ward presented his efforts to gather the skills and talents of June Atkinson and Mark Johnson to raise a little over $1M to help teachers and schools requip themselves after Hurricane Florence – a program called Florence Aid to Students and Teachers (FASTNC). FASTNC has distributed $900,000 in grants to teachers and other school employees to recover from Florence. Nearly 40 organizations allied with FASTNC, but not a single partner was more steadfast or generous than the United Methodists of the NC Conference. He was in a storm-impacted school and a teacher said that after the storms, some of the students “had lost everything.” “Our message to them was, ‘You show up, we’ll take care of the rest.'” This partnership has made it possible for teachers to make good on that promise. It’s who we are as United Methodists to support public schools.
Church and Society – Deaconess Brenda Brown
The year, the Committee has focused on three issues: providing support for the creation of a Justice For Our Neighbors (JFON) Immigration Law Clinic at St. Andrews UMC: Fayetteville; bringing attention to the issue of solitary confinement as a means of torture in our criminal justice system; and UMAPS – United Methodists Advocates for Public Education. The Board has been providing Inclusive Conversations with the LBGTQIA+ community. They also reviewed the new draft of the Social Principles and provided feedback to the General Board of Church and Society.
Asian Ministries – Rev. Sang Seon Park
In January, members of the committee went to Duke Divinity School to meet with Asian divinity students and faculty members. Thanks to Woo-Il Lee, attorney and a pastor offering legal services at AGAPE church in Garner. Rev. Park announced an Asian Pilgrimage for March 2020. Twenty annual conferences and more than fifty teams have participated in similar pilgrimages. Thanks to the generosity of local churches, participants only pay the flight to Seoul; everything else is free. Participants will visit diverse cultural and historic sites in Korea and pray at the DMZ for peace in the peninsula, then spend five days in fellowship with Filipino Christians. Go to the conference website for registration information.
NC Advance Specials and Missional Giving – Rev. Jaye White
There are many opportunities to give through the Advance to support a mission or missionary. Some are global and some are in our conference. New conference Advance Specials approved this year: Haiti Outreach Ministry, the Samaritan’s Fund, The Lodge in Fayetteville, Immigration and Sanctuary Legal Fund, and United Methodists Against Trafficking. 100 percent of all giving to the Advance goes to the project you choose with no processing or staffing fees. Information about becoming a Rainbow Covenant Church, missions, and missionaries can be found in the Missions & Service book posted on the conference website.
Evangelism – Rev. Bruce Skipper
Gail Bailey, member of the Conference Commission on Evangelism told of her journey in learning how to share Jesus Christ with those she encountered. She took Lay Servant Ministry classes and hopes to concentrate in Older Adult Ministry. “We are never too old to serve and never too old for God to do a new thing through us.”
Rev. Skipper reported that in the last two years, churches have reported 1128 professions of faith. This is good news, but there is still much work to do.
Two districts have hosted a Connecting to Christ evangelism event that teaches the who, what, why and how of evangelism. The Commission plans to hold this event in six other districts this year. Churches are reminded that love is the most effective form of evangelism and that mission starts outside in the world, not inside the walls.
The 2019 Harry Denman Award recipients are :
Laity – Bill Eure of the Heritage District
Clergy – Rev Douglas Johnson from the Harbor District
Youth – Jadon Olsen from the Gateway District
Hispanic/Latinx Ministries – Rev. Edgar Vergara-Millan
Through the Disciples Making Disciples Initiative, 115 Lay missioners have been commissioned in our conference who bring vitality to the life of our conference. We celebrate the Empowering Network Initiative which supports the ministries of five Hispanic/Latinx communities in our conference. We are excited to be partnering with the American Red Cross to help Hispanic/Latinx communities vulnerable to natural disasters, and we are in the planning stages of launching five new Hispanic/Latinx ministries in our conference in the next ten years.
Vegara-Millan also gave an impassioned plea for NC Conference to support immigrants in North Carolina and the United States and thanked the conference for passing the resolution “Seeing Our Immigrant Neighbors and the Forces Affecting Them.
CONAM Ministries – Rev. Harold Hunt
Rev. Hunt thanked the conference for the contributions made through the Native American Ministry Sunday offering which furthers ministry in 14 Native American churches in our conference, assists Native American seminarians with their education, and helps the Native American Cooperative Ministries work with young people who seek to answer God’s call in their life, build relationships with other NA congregations, and help strengthen our conference programs through the National Comprehensive Plan and the SE Jurisdiction. Hunt asked the conference to continue celebrating the contributions, gifts, talents, and witness that the NA community brings to the North Carolina Conference.
Immigration – Refugee/Emergency Family Task Force – Rev. Jason Villegas
Rev. Villegas brought greetings and thanks from the Refugee and Immigration Committee and Immigration Ministry Task Force. Four key initiatives of this group are: supporting advocacy for refugee and immigrant issues; facilitating works through grants to local congregations and groups working on refugee and immigration projects; building relationships with UM churches and outside affiliations; and awareness of refugee and immigration issues within congregations
This year, the Task Force has provided support for Pastor Jose Chicas who is living in sanctuary in Durham; provided a $3000 grant for legal support for detained NC immigrants held in Lumpkin, GA; and given a $2000 grant to the Liberation Not Deportation Fund, a joint initiative from the Hispanic liaison in Siler City and Durham to support immigrants and families impacted by increased ICE raids in our communities. Members of the Task and others wrote 40 days of Lenten devotions which are still available online at immigrationtaskforce.church.
Churches Coming Together for Justice -Rev. Tuck Taylor
This organization is an ecumenical multiracial group longing to build bridges along lines of race, denomination, and class. They began worshiping together every 5th Sunday and studied the books “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander and “Stranger at My Door” by Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove. Wanting to do more, they partnered with the conference’s Living the Word, and dove into scripture, prayed, broke bread, and took a hard look at the surrounding community and the issue of racism. One of the most significant things to happen during this time is their partnering with the program Gentleman’s Agreement, a vision of one the Living the Word participants, the Rev. Maurice Barnes. Gentleman’s Agreement comes alongside young African-American men in Wilson with support and mentoring to empower them to be all that God has created them to be. The NC Conference has supported this program and 175 young men have been impacted in three high schools. Because of its impact, the local school board has now included it in their budget. It has been recognized across the state and nation so that other school systems are now considering implementing it.
Connectional Ministries Executive Director, Steve Taylor, ended the report with these words – “These ministries are your ministries and you are these ministries.”