By United Methodist News Service*
7:00 A.M. ET Jan. 25, 2012 | TAMPA, Fla.
The Rev. Jay Williams (left) listens during a panel discussion about clergy effectiveness at The United Methodist Church's Pre-General Conference news briefing at the Tampa Convention Center in Florida. With him are the Revs. Tom Choi (center) and Amy Gearhart. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.
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Editor’s note: This is a look at issues explored at a recent Pre-General Conference News Briefing in Tampa, Fla. A separate story, Preview to church restructuring debate, focuses on the proposal to restructure the church.
Diverse issues presented at a recent three-day briefing signaled the workload ahead for the lawmaking body of The United Methodist Church, which meets this spring.
More than 300 delegates, communicators and others who will be part of the 2012 General Conferencemet Jan. 19-21 at the Tampa Convention Center, site of the legislative assembly, for a preview of some of the issues they will face April 24-May 4. United Methodist Communications sponsored the event, with involvement and support from other agencies and ministries of the church. This is a brief look at the issues explored.
Leading vital congregations
Proposed changes to the ordination process will eliminate guaranteed appointments, streamline the ordination process and sharpen the focus on making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, said members of the Study of Ministry Commission in their presentation on clergy effectiveness proposals.
The Rev. Jay Williams, pastor of Glendale United Methodist Church, Everett, Mass., endorsed the plan, which would eliminate the commissioning step, create an orientation to ministry and require conferences to have vocational discernment coordinators.
Guaranteed appointments were introduced in the 1956 Book of Discipline as a way to protect women who received the rights to become ordained at that General Conference, said the Rev. Tom Choi, Hawaii District superintendent, California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference.
“Racism and sexism haven’t gone away, but we’re in a different place than we were 56 years ago,” Choi said.
Leadership needs to be creative and nimble, said the Rev. Amy Gearhart, senior pastor of Missouri United Methodist Church, Columbia, Mo. She said security of appointment for elders in good standing has become a “barrier to mission.”
In 2010, the United Methodist Sustainability Advisory Group released a report saying there are 784 more pastors than appointments in the denomination. Clergy retirements by 2013 will leave drastically low numbers, if younger clergy are not recruited and encouraged.
Bishop Larry Goodpaster, current Council of Bishops president, discussed the proposal to create a “set-aside bishop” without residential responsibilities.
“It is nearly impossible to be president of the Council of Bishops and lead an episcopal area,” he said.
Some delegates questioned whether a new bishop position, along with the elimination of guaranteed appointments, would shift too much power to the bishops.
Goodpaster emphasized that the General Conference will still be the only voice that speaks for the entire denomination and bishops will remain bound by The United Methodist Book of Discipline.
Representatives of the United Methodist ethnic/racial ministries asked news-briefing participants to see and hear them because often they feel “invisible.”
The Rev. Francisco Cañas introduces speakers during a breakfast with leaders of The United Methodist Church’s ethnic initiatives.
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The denomination’s ethnic initiatives help start new churches and cultivate new leaders to draw more people of color into The United Methodist Church.
“It is our mission to be the church for all people and to bring the great news to each in their own language,” said the Rev. Francisco Cañas, speaking for the ethnic/racial ministries. Cañas is national coordinator of the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry.
The group expressed concerns with a proposed restructure of The United Methodist Church, which includes a plan to consolidate nine of the denomination’s 13 general agencies into a new United Methodist Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry.
The ethnic initiatives said there was little or no consultation with them about the new structure proposed by the Interim Operations Team, which developed the restructure proposal endorsed by the Connectional Table and Council of Bishops. The Connectional Table drafted the legislation.
“We should have some direct say-so about where we are placed and financed,” said the Rev. Fred A. Allen, national director of Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century.
“Pacific Islanders will give their last dollar before they see a church die,” said Monalisa Tui'tahi, executive director of the Pacific Islanders National Plan. “We need your partnership to be part of the family.”
Representatives of the United Methodist Council on Korean American Ministries, Asian American Language Ministry, and Native American Comprehensive Plan also spoke.
Trail of repentance and healing
“What if your greatest hope was also your greatest fear?”
The Rev. Anita Phillips, executive director of the Native American Comprehensive Plan, softly asked that question and stilled the room of General Conference delegates, communicators and agency staff.
An Act of Repentance and Healing for Indigenous Persons will be part of 2012 General Conference on April 27.
A ceremonial space honoring indigenous people by artist Bob Haozous graces the Riverwalk in Tampa, Fla. The United Methodist Church is planning an “Act of Repentance and Healing for Indigenous Persons,” during its 2012 General Conference.
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“I have two identities. I am a Christian, and I am Native American,” said Phillips.
“It is with fear and trembling that I say, ‘yes,’ repentance is possible, and it can be genuine and honest.”
Not far from the Tampa Convention Center, where the legislative assembly of nearly 1,000 delegates from around the world will meet, is a marker in honor of the remains of a small Native American tribe uncovered when the center was constructed in 1987.
“A temple mound stood five stories high and existed before the time of Christ,” said the Rev. Stephen Sidorak, top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns. Tampa was also thedeportation center for Native Americans and African slaves, he said.
“We have to repent of what we have done and what we have left undone,” Sidorak said.
The committee working on the service has been to the Philippines and other places to gather stories from indigenous persons “wherever United Methodism has spread its blanket on the land,” Phillips said.
“My hope rests in Christ. I claim you as a brother or sister in Christ and ask that you claim me as a representative of the Native American nation,” she said. “It is one of the most important things you will do at this General Conference.”
Worldwide nature of the church
A 20-member Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church considered how to forge deeper connections, establish greater local authority and create a more equitable sharing of power and representation, reported Kansas Area Bishop Scott Jones, who chaired the committee.
The process included consultation with United Methodists from around the world.
“Part of what we heard everywhere was … a desire to have greater equality across the church,” said the Rev. Cathy Stengel, a district superintendent from the Upper New York Annual Conference.
The Rev. Forbes Matonga of Zimbabwe, the committee vice chair, said the denomination must make some changes to bind its members together. “As we were listening, it was very clear that people we met want to remain United Methodist,” he added.
Central conferences outside the United States have the right to adapt the Book of Discipline for their own use, but “nobody knows what is adaptable and what isn’t,” Jones pointed out. The committee has submitted legislation to solve that problem.
The committee’s other legislative petitions focus on the duties of general agencies to be responsive to the world church and continued conversations about a global model for the denomination.
Changes to clergy pensions
General Conference will consider two proposals that would change clergy pensions, shifting more of the risk in retirement preparation from annual conferences to individual clergy.
Mike Bella (left) and the Rev. Maidstone Mulenga join in worship during The United Methodist Church's Pre-General Conference news briefing. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
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The United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefitsis asking the denomination’s top lawmaking body to choose between the two options. The first would combine a defined benefit component with a defined contribution component, like the clergy’s current retirement program but with a reduced benefit for clergy and, consequently, a lower contribution for conferences. The second option would be a defined contribution-only plan.
A defined benefit plan provides a monthly pension payment for life, with the employer assuming the bulk of the investment risk. A defined contribution plan — like the 401(k) plans most corporate employees now have — provides an account balance to use during retirement, with the clergyperson assuming most of the risk that the money will not run out in his or her lifetime.
The pension board recommends the first option, which combines a reduced defined benefit component with a defined contribution component.
Either option would reduce the costs to conferences overall by about 15 percent.
“We have a theology of hope, but we try not to build that into our actuarial projections,” said Barbara Boigegrain, the pension board’s top executive.
The proposed changes would not reduce benefits for retired clergy that already are being paid or reduce what active clergy have already earned.
As the U.S. economy improves, more than 40 percent of United Methodist congregations “describe their financial health as good or excellent,” reported John Goolsbey, a staff executive with the denomination’s Council on Finance and Administration.
Still, all levels of the church responded to the recession, he said, by cutting staff, freezing salaries and re-aligning ministries. The downturn affected church endowments and savings, capital projects and giving to mission work.
At General Conference, the finance and administration agency’s main task will be to present a proposed church budget for 2013-16. The agency also submitted 43 petitions.
To facilitate the budget process, the agency established an economic advisory committee, which created three economic scenarios and worked with the projections of denominational agencies, explained the Rev. Pat Youngquist, staff executive.
At $603 million, the recommended budget reflects general reductions of 6.6 percent and marks the first time a budget smaller than that for the previous quadrennium will be presented.
The World Service Fund represents 52 percent of the budget, at $311.6 million. Other categories are Ministerial Education, $105.6 million; Episcopal (the bishops), $90.3 million; General Administration, $8.2 million; Black College, $42.1 million; Africa University, $9.4 million; and Interdenominational Cooperation, $8.2 million.
“Great ministries cannot be done without your support for the apportionments,” A. Moses Kumar, top staff executive of the Council on Finance and Administration, reminded the delegates.
Leading a session on “Holy Conversation about Challenging Issues,” Minnesota Area Bishop Sally Dyck said, “For many people, General Conference is dread-full.
“As a people of The United Methodist Church, we can demonstrate a more excellent way.”
Holy conferencing, or holy conversation, she said, “sets a tone for respectful dialogue and relationship building.” The goal is to have dialogue instead of debate and to find consensus around important matters rather than have “winners” and “losers.”
Minnesota Area Bishop Sally Dyck speaks about the importance of “holy conversation” about contentious issues.
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“We do more political conferencing than holy conferencing,” declared the Rev. Mike Slaughter, lead pastor of Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church, Tipp City, Ohio. Paraphrasing John 16:13, he expressed hope that “the Holy Spirit will lead to things to come.”
The Rev. Bruce W. Robbins, pastor of Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, Minneapolis, agreed. “The challenge of holy conversation can be a source of frustration and despair,” he said. He cited the dilemma of being asked to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies and the two covenants to which he is called — “as an ordained clergy and as a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
The Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, vice president and general manager of Good News, said he experienced holy conferencing in the Wisconsin Annual (regional) Conference’s study of homosexuality and called it “next to impossible at General Conference.”
While some issues may seem impossible to resolve, he said, “it is important to remember how we treat one another, with respect and understanding. Holy conferencing allows us to talk about our deeply held convictions and the reasons we hold them.”
Erin Hawkins, who leads the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race, said, “We are tasked with sustaining a difficult conversation every day.
“Holy conversation is a commitment to see equity, participation and access to participation.”
Approaching General Conference, said the Rev. Stephanie Hixon, it is normal to feel anxious and somewhat fearful. She is co-executive director of the denomination’s JustPeace Center for Mediation and Conflict Transformation.
“My prayer,” she said, “is that we may know God’s embrace is strong enough, wide enough and tender enough to carry the important conversations that are put before us.”
Asked what they hope to experience about holy conversation from presiding bishops, other delegates and themselves, panel participants listed courage, fairness and respect, honesty, humility and openness to others in the Spirit.
“Will General Conference be dread-full or will it be hopeful?” Dyck asked the audience. “It’s up to you.”
Gathering participants with rousing, contemporary music was the worship team from Van Dyke United Methodist Church, Lutz, Fla.
In his sermon, the Rev. Tom Albin, dean of the Upper Room for the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, focused on the importance of prayer before, during and after General Conference.
“We need the church united in prayer,” he said.
He introduced a resource, “50 Days of Prayer Before & During General Conference 2012.” Electronic communication will make it possible for every local congregation in every part of the world to pray with and for the 988 delegates. Using the Internet and free, downloadable files, every United Methodist will be able to read the same Scripture, share the same insights and pray the same prayer for 40 days before General Conference as well as pray through each day of the conference, April 24 through May 4.
“I know if we listen and God speaks, there will be transformation,” Albin said. “God can answer in amazing ways.”
Preaching on the second day of the news briefing, the Rev. Francisco Cañas challenged participants to find “new forms of being the church.”
Calling for diversity, he said, “To continue perpetuating the old rule of inviting only the people we know, who look and behave like us, will not produce the vitality and diversity that by nature belongs to God’s kingdom.
“As United Methodist people, we find the solid ground of our mission in God’s trust, love and compassion for the entire breadth of humankind.”
*Linda Bloom, Joey Butler, Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Kathy Gilbert and Heather Hahn contributed to this report.
News contact: Maggie Hillery, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
March 6, 2011
Bishop Paul Leeland
100 Interstate Park
Montgomery, AL 36109
Since the April 2011 tornado outbreaks, our Conference has learned that response and recovery are not just a coastal concern. This past year hundreds of volunteers have responded and thousands of volunteer hours have been logged in our response and recovery efforts. Our people have answered the call with both physical and monetary donations and the primary goal of the Recovery Team has been to be wise stewards of all these gifts.
You and the entire Conference staff and leadership have been valuable in their roles. Neil McDavid has been open and tireless in helping make connections and decisions on a Conference level and Susan Hunt has consistently helped message to churches and volunteers throughout each district. Early on, DS John Bonner and his office has also been a candid and hardworking team member. These layers of communication and support are extremely important to mounting any sort of successful response and recovery.
Our team on the ground in the Demopolis District is the backbone of our efforts and they are a talented and dedicated team. The Conference is extremely blessed to have as our Recovery Team: Charles Walters, Patricia Grindle, and Tommy Warren. Their work to help rebuild communities and individuals in the Demopolis District has been outstanding and superbly handled. Each has brought to the recovery not only their faith and caring for families in desperate need, but also a very high standard for their projects and case management. They represent us with integrity at the Long Term Recovery Tables and our recovery efforts in the Demopolis District would not be as forward moving and successful without the leadership of this dedicated team.
As we approach the one-year anniversary of the storms, I thought it timely to express to you the sense of duty and honor they carry into the field each day and my joy in working with them. It is my sincere prayer that we finish this course and have a quiet time in our upcoming weather seasons.
Blessings & Peace,
Disaster Response Team Coordinator
Alabama-West Florida Conference United Methodist Church
We appreciate your prayers and offers of service to those who lost property from the March 2 storms. Rev. Steve Reneau of Verbena UMC and Dr. Chris Perry, Montgomery-Prattville district disaster response coordinator, are coordinating relief efforts for the Verbena area. The best way to stay current on needs in that area is to follow the conference Facebook page.
The Rev. Tom Hazelwood, US Disaster Response executive for the UM Committee on Relief (UMCOR) traveled Monday, March 5, to areas affected by the recent tornadoes. You can follow him on Twitter @TomUMCOR for updates.
Our brothers and sisters in Christ in the states of Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee have been assessing damage. Should there be a need for Early Response Teams or Long-term Recovery Teams from our area, we will notify district disaster response coordinators as well as those who are currently certified in our database. We do anticipate a need in the coming weeks but will wait to hear the request from the conference inviting teams into the area.
For now, please continue to pray for all who have experienced a loss—whether it be a loss of a friend or family member, or property. We know too well in this conference the pain these natural disasters cause. You may also donate to UMCOR using the Advance #901670 and select "Tornadoes 2012" from the menu. Again, we appreciate the care and concern so many have shown to those who need it most at the moment.
As the United Methodist Church worldwide, the General Board of Global Ministries has committed to four areas of service. One is Ministry with the Poor. It is one way that we commit to live out our Christian witness, our ministry in this world. It is who we say we are as United Methodists, as brothers and sisters in Christ, as servants of our Lord.
To catch this vision, click on the link below that will take you to the Global Ministries site which describes Ministry with the Poor… not to or for, but with the poor. This video casts the vision of the United Methodist Church in a way that will capture the heart and attention of believers. “In ministry with we are transformed… We transform each other,” the video says. Simply click www.ministrywith.org.
So what does ministry with the poor look like in the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church? In our Conference, a new ministry with the poor is emerging through the Circles of Transformation initiative. It is, in its simplest terms, United Methodists building intentional relationships across socioeconomic lines. This partnership of Circles and the United Methodist Church is not only being piloted here, but also by the North Carolina Conference.
The Circles® Campaign is a nationwide outreach that partners community leaders and volunteers with families that want to make the journey out of poverty. Operating in communities around the country, each Circles® initiative is built of families working to get out of poverty and several middle and upper income Allies who befriend them and lend support – not financial support, but support through the building of intentional friendships. The family is the Circle Leader who sets the goals and direction for the activities that will help to move them to a better place. With the help and friendship of their Allies and the Circles staff, families set and achieve goals specific to their own needs. So rather than targeting a surface need of at-risk families such as housing or food provision, Circles® seeks to create a brand new path for the future for families at risk. Recently CBS News did a story on Circles. Click here to see the transformation in one family’s lives that the CBS story shares.
In our Conference, for the last nine months a conference-wide Circles Leadership Team has been developing a Ministry Action Plan (MAP) for the implementation of Circles throughout the Conference. The Leadership Team chose Dothan as the initial site to pilot this effort. Circles information meetings have been held with Dothan area United Methodist pastors, interested church members, and with community agencies that desire to partner in this initiative.
In May, a Circles of Transformation Community Kick Off will be held in Dothan, and at that time we will invite the community to join us in this work. The CEO of the national Circles Campaign, Karin VanZant, will be the speaker and leader of the day’s events. The Circles process will be laid out for government leaders, potential community volunteers, and agencies in Houston County. Additional volunteers from the community at large will be enlisted. Those volunteers will commit to invest a few hours a month to befriend a family, as part of a team, in order that the family can learn how to grow in strength and stability. Ultimately, the goal is to help a family develop enough relationships and resources to do more than just survive… but to thrive.
The Circles Leadership Team is beginning to seek other communities within our Conference who are interested in being a part of this Conference-wide initiative in Ministry with the Poor.
To learn more about Circles, you can contact Fred and Laurel Blackwell, the Conference Circles Coordinators, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 334.524.3652.
Alabama Rural Ministry (ARM) is seeking energetic and dedicated students to run its summer youth mission camps called “Extend.” There are still a few openings for construction and day camp counselors and are in need of guys to round out our total staff. The work is hard and the hours are long but extremely rewarding as you mentor youth, serve families through vital home repair, and minister with some vibrant and energetic children! Jesus will work in your life in a powerful way! Staff receive a $1,700 scholarship, $20/week stipend, housing, and most meals.
Still seeking a place to serve this summer? ARM’s summer mission camps, Extend, still have openings at both sites in Livingston (West Alabama) and Tuskegee (East Alabama). A flat cost covers all of your expenses and included are materials, meals, sleeping arrangements, and evening worship and discussion. Activities include some disaster response in addition to serving our elderly and disabled families. Groups can also lead the daily activities at Sonshine Kids Day Camp with children ages 5-12 in each community. For information contact Lisa Pierce at email@example.com or call (334) 501-4276 and see www.arm-al.org.
Cycle of Service (aka Bike Across Alabama) is now registering riders. This 3rd annual ride benefits families in Alabama needing home repair! Riders take a three-day journey beginning May 4th and ending May 6th--you can go from state line to state line! In the afternoons, riders participate in community events. Registration goes through April 27th. Not a cyclist or can’t make it? Still want to help? Consider being a virtual rider! You can still sign up and either log in cycling miles around your home OR you can sponsor a fundraiser on our behalf. Lots of ways to plug in! For more information see www.cycleofservice.arm-al.org.