Annual Conference Wrap-Up

Annual Conference

On June 20-23 clergy and lay delegates were gathered at Lake Junaluska for our 2019 Annual Conference (AC). Since the earliest days of Methodism, the connectional work we do at Annual Conferences has been done by an equal representation of clergy and lay members of local churches.  First Murphy belongs to the Western North Carolina Conference of The UMC (WNCC), which stretches from the western most part of the state to about Greensboro.  From there to the east is the North Carolina Conference.  There are Annual Conferences, designated by regional boundaries, all throughout the United States, and each has an annual meeting the same as ours.

This may be old hat to you—and if so, you can skip ahead to the next heading—but if not, here’s a word about Annual Conferences.  ACs are more than just a yearly meeting.  Our United Methodist Book of Discipline calls ACs the basic body in the church, organized to help equip local churches for ministry and provide a connection for ministry beyond the local church (¶601 BoD).  Practically that looks like our congregation sharing in opportunities for mission and service (e.g., supporting UMAR), resources for faith formation (e.g.  retreats at Lake Junaluska), and ministry support (e.g. guiding the process of a new building or providing grant money for ministry).  The AC is overseen by a bishop (ours is Bishop Paul Leeland), and its boundaries typically reflect the region to which a clergy person “belongs” and may be appointed.

So AC is more than a meeting.  It is a larger expression of the local church.  Think of how Sunday school classes or small groups are smaller parts of the bigger church.  It’s kind of like that.  We are connected with every other UMC in WNC, and because of that connection we have some amazing resources and opportunities available to us.

Here is a link to our Conference’s website. Check it out, and I’ll bet you can find something informative, helpful, and inspiring in no time at all.

Reports and Ministry Opportunities 

Each year we hear several reports from various agencies and entities within our AC, including reports related to Pensions and Health Benefits for clergy and a report from our Council on Finance and Administration.  This year we approved an AC budget of $16 million.  Among other things that budget reflects commitments to empower and revitalize existing churches and ministries, and to expand our witness by starting new ones.

We heard reports from United Methodist Women, United Methodist Men, the Leadership Development Team, and Missional Engagement Team.

Lots of people groan when it comes to reports at AC, but, honestly, some of the reports were really inspiring!  Like the reports related to churches that are doing innovative ministries that are reaching new people for Christ.  Over the last few years, we’ve heard a good bit about Fresh Expressions, a movement that looks at “doing church” in new ways.  Dinner Church is one form of a Fresh Expression that has really taken off in our conference.  The basic idea is people gather around a table (or lots of tables) for a meal, Christian teaching and conversation, and genuine fellowship.

I wonder what sorts of ways God is leading First Murphy to reach out and go out to new people for Christ?  What fresh expressions of ministry is God leading us into?

Esther Manchester, our lay delegate, and I went to a meeting of Rural Ministry Advocates and learned about one church that opened their parking lot as a flea market (no charge for a booth), They were intentional about getting to know the vendors, started sharing a regular breakfast and devotional time together, and found that something started to emerge that looked like church…only in their parking lot.

I wonder what sorts of ways God is leading First Murphy to reach out and go out to new people for Christ? I wonder how we can go deeper in the relationships we already have?  (Remember the connection of an AC?  We also heard about how there is financial support available to churches who are starting new ministries that intentionally reach out to new people.)

Petitions

In addition to Reports, we also voted on several petitions.  I’ll summarize those actions below, and you can follow this linkto a more complete report:

  • Approved petition 17 regarding Gender Discrimination in Appointments, which request the Bishop and cabinet work with Staff-Parish Committees to promote, affirm, and practice our open itinerancy regardless of gender.
  • Approved petition 18 which forms a Child Advocacy Coalition that will promote equity, opportunities, and well-being for children in WNC, and educate, resource, and equip the church in response and advocacy for children.
  • Approved petition 19 which will adopt a procedure allowing clergy to self-nominate for elections to attend General Conference in 2024.
  • Approved petition 20 which means our Annual Conference recommends to General Conference 2020 a Jurisdictional Conference Plan as a potential approach to the current divisions within the UMC.
  • Approved petition 21 which means our Annual Conference recommends to General Conference 2020 a petition that would remove language in the Discipline referring to the practice of homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
  • Approved a substitute petition (to 22) which says our Annual Conference rejects the Traditional Plan approved at General Conference 2019 and aspires to lead the UMC to be a more inclusive body.

Let me say this about the last three petitions mentioned here…  Each of these is related the Traditional Plan’s passing at the special Called Session of General Conference in 2019 and our Judicial Council’s ruling in April that some parts of the Plan are constitutional and others not.  Each vote included vigorous debate and disagreement.  There was a 200-vote margin of separation in each, showing that while each petition speaks for the majority of the Annual Conference, it doesn’t speak for the whole.  Most U.S. Conferences passed similar petitions rejecting or otherwise stating disapproval of the Traditional Plan.

There’s no way around it: we are a divided denomination.  There are several different groups actively working to chart a path forward for The UMC.  Some, like the moderate-progressives of UMNext and Uniting Methodists are working to consider ways to hold together a diverse, global denomination who disagree but whose witness is stronger together. Others, like the more conservative Wesleyan Covenant Association, are looking to expand and strengthen the traditional legislation of General Conference 2019 and urge those who disagree to exit the UMC.

One of the songs we always sing at Opening Worship of AC talks about “fightings without, and fears within.”  I regret that so much of our denominational conversation and posturing and doesn’t look at all like how Christ would have us make every effort to maintain the Spirit of unity in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).

There are challenges ahead and in the imminent future of The UMC.  We’ll be having more conversation about that as a congregation, but if you have any questions about this or want to talk about your own hopes or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me by phone or email.

 General Conference 2020

 Petitions 20 and 21 turned our attention toward General Conference 2020, which will take place May 5-15 in Minneapolis, MN.  Each of these petitions will go to General Conference with the endorsement of our Annual Conference.

Part of our work this year was electing delegates—and equal number of clergy and lay members—from our AC to represent us both at General Conference (GC) and Jurisdictional Conference (JC).  Here is a complete list of delegateswho were elected.

GC is the only body that can speak for the United Methodist Church.  We don’t just have 1 person, like a pope; we have around 800!  In 2020, GC will most certainly take up a number of pieces of legislation that will deal with a future for the UMC given our reality of diversity and disagreement.

We belong to the Southeast Jurisdiction.  The meeting of that JC is most especially responsible for the nomination, election, and appointment of bishops.  If GC votes to change to Jurisdictional powers and privileges, some of their work might change as well.  This Sunday, 6/30, one of our ACs delegates to JC, Rev. Julia Trantham Heckert, will be our guest preacher!

Please be in prayer for these delegates and the important work they have been elected to do.

Take Away 

If you made it all the way here, bless you!  That’s a lot of information to handle and process.  Maybe it’s kind of like drinking from a fire hydrant.  Here’s what I hope you take away though in the end: God has given us important ministry to do—around the world and in our backyards—and God’s Spirit will guide and empower us to do it.  We’ll keep talking, while we keep walking…walking in the light of Christ.

 

 

Annual Conference Update

One of my favorite moments at Annual Conference is the opening of the clergy session, which for us was this past Thursday morning.  That session of our Annual Conference gathering is limited to clergy–ordained as well as provisional elders and deacons, and licensed local pastors.  There’s always some work we do in those hours that pertains specifically to clergy.  It’s not the work part that makes it one of my favorite moments; though, I do believe in the work and think it’s good.  I love standing during the opening hymn and looking around at the faces of all my sisters and brothers, my co-laborers in God’s vineyard.

There’s nearly a thousand of us.  I don’t know anywhere close to everyone, but I know a bunch.  And there are several with whom I’m close friends, and we’ve walked through the ups and downs of life and ministry together.  I love looking out at that sea of faces because I know these are men and women who’ve given their lives in service to God and the church, and my heart swells with pride and gratitude to get to be part of that covenant community.

One of my other favorite moments comes in opening worship, which was yesterday (Friday morning).  That’s when all of us are together–clergy and lay delegates.  We sing an old song Methodists have been singing at Annual Conference for generations: “And Are We Yet Alive.”  It used to be that Methodist clergy were out on horseback in the frontier, riding through rain and snow, often alone, persevering in difficult and sometimes dangerous situations all to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.  So when they gathered together and sang “And Are We Yet Alive” they really meant it!  It was a gift to all be together, some for the first time in the whole year.

When we sing that opening song, I look around again (like I do in the clergy session), and my heart again swells with pride and gratitude.  I remember my place in God’s church and God’s call on my life.  I know that when are together we come from so many different experiences: churches that are anywhere from thriving to barely surviving, and everywhere in between.  The same is true for every person.  And we give thanks to God that we are together, a snapshot of United Methodism in Western North Carolina.  In those moments, I give thanks for First United Methodist Church in Murphy.  And my heart swells with pride and gratitude that I am part of that body and that we are part of this bigger body.

At Annual Conference, we are about the work of The United Methodist Church in Western North Carolina.  Today we’ll continue casting ballots for elections to Jurisdictional Conference, hearing reports, voting on petitions, and listening for how God might be leading us–our conference and our churches–to fresh and invigorating visions of Christ’s mission.  We have lots of work to do–it’s important, and I believe in it.  I’m going to share some links below that you can use if you’d like to follow along and stay up to date on what’s going on at your Annual Conference.  Esther Manchester, your AC Delegate, and I will find ways to share with you what’s taken/taking place at AC once we return.

Sunday, Annual Conference will conclude with closing worship.  I’ll miss being at First Murphy on that morning, though I know you will have a wonderful worship service!  It will be a gift for you to be together, just as you are every Sunday, to look around and see each other’s face.  “Glory and thanks to Jesus give, for his almighty grace!”  (“And Are We Yet Alive” v. 1).

Updates

  • For all things Annual Conference click this link.  You can find summaries of each day’s work, reports, etc.  You can also find a live stream link to watch AC proceedings if you’d like.
  • One of the cool, new things our conference communications team has published this year is a magazine that tells some powerful stories of faith and ministry taking place across the conference.  I encourage you to give it a read here.  It includes a story about Riley Howell, the UNCC student (and United Methodist) who sacrifices his life to save others during the recent shooting at their campus.
  • The Clergy have elected all of our delegates to General Conference 2020 as well as Jurisdictional Conference 2020, and the Laity have elected their full slate of delegates to General Conference 2020 as well.  They still have to elect delegates to JC.  Here is the list of delegates.
  • Some of the petitions we will vote on today are related to the 2019 called Special Session of General Conference and the Judicial Council decision that followed its passing of the “Traditional Plan.”  Follow this link, and you can read about the Judicial Council’s decision to uphold some parts of the “Traditional Plan” while ruling other parts unconstitutional.