“In these extraordinary times, God calls us through Psalm 86 and the witness of the entire scripture to lament honestly the heaviness we feel in our hearts and to hold that lament in the light of the goodness of God,” Bishop Hope Morgan Ward said in a virtual 2020 North Carolina Annual Conference session the morning of June 18.
Beginning in lament, the conference honored 21 clergy and 21 clergy spouses who have died since the last annual conference. Prayers were offered for all affected by COVID-19, for medical personnel and caregivers, for families who have lost loved ones to the virus, for the loss of in-person worship and gatherings, for persons who have lost jobs and live in economic uncertainty as a result of COVID-19, for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and for all persons who struggle daily in the midst of systemic racism, inequity and violence.
In her sermon, Bishop Ward invited all, though in lament, to sing the song of Psalm 86, which is a combination of petitions and praises to a merciful gracious God, abounding in steadfast love.
“We find ourselves with the psalmist in a holy mashup of emotions, longing to be faithful even with hearts heavy with COVID-19’s impacts in our communities and our world. With hearts heavy in the wake of the most recent brutal racial murders bringing to light the violence against Black and brown people across centuries in our country.”
“We are being awakened perhaps to acknowledge our history, love one another well, and create a new world that God intends for all humankind… We are at a time of waking up and may we never, never fall asleep again.”
The worship moved into a Love Feast led by the Rev. Nathan Wittman and the Rev. Laura Wittman and their three young sons, ending with the singing of “Lift High the Cross.”
After a short break, the conference moved into the business session.
Approved during the special session:
• The conference approved a budget for 2022 in the amount of $15,472,714 (-$732,734), a 4.52% decrease from the approved 2021 budget amount.
• 2021 health insurance premiums for churches and individuals will increase by 8%.
• At a request from the district superintendents, the conference will keep 2021 district superintendent salaries at the 2020 level. There will also be no salary increases in 2021 for conference and district employees.
• A recommendation from the Committee on Equitable Compensation proposed minimum pastoral salaries at all levels remain the same as 2019-20. Minimum compensation will remain $46,627 for full-time clergy (full connection, associate, provisional, local pastor); and $30,308 for student pastors.
• The conference recognized and honored the service of Gary Locklear, conference lay leader from 2012-2020. The work and ministry of laity was also celebrated with a video trailer titled “I’m a Lay Person and I’m in Ministry” as an introduction to a broader online report – https://nccumc.org/laity/celebration/.
• An online offering for the conference COVID-19 Response Fund totaled $6,349. The COVID-19 Response Fund provides resources to be used to assist churches and ministries impacted during this time of unprecedented crisis.
Key statistics from 2019:
– Number of people to be ordained, commissioned, licensed, consecrated or certified at a later date:
1 deacon, 24 elders to be ordained (average age of 37)
2 provisional deacons, 6 provisional elders to be commissioned (average age of 28)
30 local pastors to be licensed (average age of 41)
3 lay ministers to be certified
3 deaconesses to be consecrated
– Number of clergy retired: 33
– Membership stands at 223,708, down 1,418 from the previous year.
– Worship attendance at the principal weekly worship service stands at 67,310, down 3,966 from the previous year.
– While participation in UMW and UMM is down, participation in United Methodist Youth Ministry is up 1,514, a 19% increase.
– Four churches have closed since the 2019 Annual Conference.
The Conference honored the service of four outgoing district superintendents – Ray Broadwell, Edie Gleaves, Randy Innes and Linda Taylor. New district superintendents – Tara Lain, Ismael Ruiz-Millan, Jon Strother and Dena White – were welcomed.
Bishop Ward fixed appointments for the 2020-2021 year, and 169 churches received pastoral changes.
The two-and-a-half-hour session was broadcast on live.nccumc.org and via Facebook Live. You can view it at nccumc.org/ac2020/watch. The conference workbook and reports can be found at https://nccumc.org/ac2020/reports/.