A day-by-day account of AC2016. Get in the know. Read it a day at a time or to the end, which is in fact, a new beginning.
Senior Editor-Writer, Michigan Area
EAST LANSING, Mich. (MIC) – An historic combined gathering brought The Detroit Annual Conference and the West Michigan Annual Conference together in East Lansing, June 8-13, 2016. Shared activities, June 9-12, were sandwiched in between two “family” sessions: DAC business was done June 8-9 and WMAC matters were cared for June 12-13.
A chance conversation overheard on the shuttle bus after all Michigan Area members were on campus describes the glory of the event.
Ray McClintic, lay member from West Branch UMC (DAC), announced to fellow passengers: “Do you want to know the four words that sum up my entire experience of Annual Conference so far? ‘HEY! I know you!’” Relating four personal East Lansing “I-know-you!” moments, Ray then said. “And you know what? When my day comes, Jesus is going to see me and say, ‘HEY! I know you!’” To this, Bev Lawton, laywoman from Lakeside UMC (WMC) seated several rows back in the bus replied, “And that’s the Connection!”
Connections … old and new. Connections with others in one’s own conference. Connections with persons from the “other” conference. Connections with God in Christ. Such was the stuff that made the 2016 Michigan Area Annual Conference like none other before it. Take together, all those connections ushered in an era of new life in The Michigan Area.
Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Wednesday, June 8, was “opening day” for the Detroit Conference, the first major act being the Memorial Service. It was the debut of a team who energized the body throughout the conference.
“Jesus, we are here, not someplace else,” said worship leader Jorge Lockward to those who, for many years, had witnessed the Memorial Service in Adrian College’s Herrick Chapel. It was one of several moments during the week when difference was named and difference deemed okay.
The Memorial Sermon, “Finding a Way,” was shared by the Rev. Barbara Lewis-Lakin, Detroit clergy and counselor with Samaritan Counseling Center of Southeast Michigan. She, too, used the moment to acknowledge grief over many losses (General Conference action (or inaction), election polemics, Bishop Kiesey’s retirement, the end of two annual conferences in Michigan). ”Death ends life but it does not end relationship,” Lewis-Lakin said, “All these losses are worthy of holding gently.”
Her message of continuing relationship came alive around a large basin of water. As saints of the Detroit Conference were named, small bowls were poured into the central basin. It was out of that font that Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey would then baptize Joshua James Reynolds, infant son of Detroit clergy couple Jon Reynolds and Lindsay Hall. Common waters, memorializing the dead and blessing the living, were a dramatic portrayal of the “great cloud of witnesses” Lewis-Lakin celebrated. (Take this link to video of the Memorial Service)
The remainder of the time dedicated to Detroit Conference actions was taken up by Clergy and Laity Sessions and Recognition of Retirees on Wednesday and legislative process on Thursday.
Thursday, June 9, 2016
On Thursday evening the Detroit Conference endorsed the Rev. Dr. Charles Boayue, Jr. for the episcopacy. His name, along with that of the Rev. Dr. Jerome DeVine, the Rev. Laurie Haller, and the Rev. Kennetha Bigham Tsai had been placed in nomination earlier in the day. Boayue alone received the 60% support necessary to endorse.
“We are blessed to have a child of the Liberia Conference and we own him as a child of the Detroit Conference,” said the Rev. Elbert Dulworth when nominating Charles from the floor. “Charles … can help us live into what it means to be a global church,” Dulworth concluded. Boayue greeted the Conference saying, “I am humbled to stand before you. The church is crying for leadership and I will give you the best I have.” The North Central Jurisdictional Conference will convene in Peoria, IL July 13-16 to elect four new bishops for The United Methodist Church. Charles is one of 14 nominees to be considered for election.
Of resolutions that came to the floor for action, these were approved:
- call to repeal Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law;
- long-term commitment to the Flint Water Crisis;
- advocacy for Restorative Justice;
- establishment of churches as Gun-Free Zones (with noted exceptions);
- support for reasonable Gun Control measures;
- appeal for reduction of Mass Incarceration;
- call to denunciate Anti-Islam Discrimination.
The Rev. Marsha Woolley, chair of the Detroit Conference Program Committee, prayed at adjournment of business, “We wondered about this space and if we would still be who we are as a Detroit Conference. We are OK because you are here, God, and we look forward to tomorrow with eagerness and readiness.”
While the Detroit Conference was finishing its work, members of the West Michigan Conference arrived on campus Thursday afternoon for Clergy and Laity Sessions. Dinner time at Brody Dining Hall became the scene of initial mingling of the two Annual Conferences.
Friday, June 10, 2016
Come Friday morning, June 10, all gathered in Breslin Arena, one year to the day after nearly 95% of Michigan United Methodists voted to form a single new conference. After 48 years of meeting on college campuses 100 miles apart, all 2,000 members of Annual Conference were seated together and ready to worship as one. Go to vimeo video here.
“Look around will ya! See the faces of your brothers and sisters. What a Body of Christ we are!” said Bishop Deb. “Can you imagine what we can do, not only for Michigan but for the world, if we leave here fired up for the work of Christ?” she asked. Was ever the traditional gathering song for United Methodists, “And Are We Yet Alive,” sung with greater vigor and joy?
The Bishop’s sermon, “Taken by the Hand,” explored tensions in The United Methodist Church and the Michigan Area. Reviewing her experience at General Conference she said, “… when it looked as though we were heading down a certain path of messy and painful division, the body made the choice to step back, to ask for space … sacred space, and work with their leaders to see if we couldn’t – one more time – find a way forward through the chaos and the hurt.” She then listed sources of hope including a passionate and risk-taking theology, partnerships between clergy and laity and mission outreach eradicating malaria and bring relief to Flint. Noting that, “There are plenty of ‘I don’t knows’ in front of The Michigan Area at the moment,” (structure, district lines, next bishop) she concluded, “I have seen your gracious spirit as we move through some chaos in the process of creating something new. That’s why I’m convinced that if we trust each other … then God will help us do this New Thing we all desire.” Click here for full text.
Following worship the Area Design Team, represented by co-chairs– the Rev. Glenn Wagner and the Rev. Marsha Woolley– came to the floor with the words, “Let’s make history!” The body then approved an enabling motion for the Creation of a New Michigan Area Conference of The United Methodist Church. Applause greeted a statement of the name, Michigan Conference, sent on to the North Central Jurisdictional Conference for approval next month.
Wagner said, “It is Bishop Deb’s vision that we not simply smush the two conference together. We have the ability to dream up something never been done before. What we create will allow us to be nimble and flexible.” Woolley added that work on space needs, structure, and finance will take place this summer. “A plan is coming in 2017. The new conference is expected to become official in January 2019.” Members then approved the service of Rev. Joy Barrett as Conference Secretary, David Dobbs as Conference Treasurer, and the Rev. Ron Iris as Conference Statistician.
Tributes by friends and colleagues, a delightful video, and the presence of family made Friday’s celebration of Bishop Deb’s ministry a time of joy. Genie Bank, Chair of the Area Episcopacy Committee guided the fete. View the video here. Good wishes were offered by a parade of colleagues. Saying, “Look back with graciousness and thanks for all your great and quiet achievements in the Michigan Area,” Bank presented the bishop with a Peace Pole. In response, Bishop Deb said, “Today the conferences are in a place you have wanted to be for decades. It has been a gift for me to be the one to lead you.”
The afternoon session on Friday was dedicated to preparation for and experience of an Act of Repentance and Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. Storyteller Raggatha (Ragghi) Calentine helped members feel into what Native Americans have felt through centuries of abuse, forced relocation and inhumane treatment. “I did not cry … on the outside,” was a statement repeated during her sharing of past atrocities. Click here to view the video of her accounts meant to “open the curtains” to a more healthy future. Left-brained dates and statistics provided a corresponding timeline of broken promises.
Then keynoter Rev. Glen Chebon Kernell, proclaimed, “The path to wellness is not a short path or an easy path. It is a path we have to take and it coincides with the Gospel Message. Click here for video of his message. Leaders of The Michigan Area, including the newly appointed bishop will take more steps toward healing and wellness along with the Indian Workers Conference (WMC) and Committee on Native American Ministries (DAC).
Saturday, June 11, 2016
Saturday was a day for putting “skin” on the 2016 Focus: Send. Retired Bishop Donald A. Ott, who served the Michigan Area from 1992-2000, propelled people from the Breslin Center and sent them out to consider ministries in their home settings. “The news that Michigan now has one Conference will fade really fast,” he said, “unless the possibility it represents shows up in your body and mind.” For video of those morning devotions click here.
TOM Talks followed (Transforming Outreach and Mission) directing members’ attention to ministries changing lives and transforming communities. Presenters included Marci Oliver (Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School); Rev. Jeremy Wicks (Director of Dansville Community Center); Rev. Faith Fowler (Cass Community Social Services); Valerie Mossman-Celestin (Haitian Artisans for Peace International); Hoon-Yung Hopgood (State Senator and member of Lansing Central UMC); and Brandon Ahmicasabe Smith (Spirit Journey). Word artists from the House of Poetry also described their spiritual mission in verse. In thanking presenters, the Rev. Paul Perez, DAC Director of Mission and Justice Engagement said, “They refuse to turn human persons into charitable objects. Instead they build mutual relationships of kinship and love.”
After lunch more than 80 conference members went into the city of East Lansing to do hands-on mission at five locations. Mission Fair displays and Mission Engagement panels deepened conference members’ understanding of what it means to be “sent.” Panel topics included: Mutual Ministry with the Poor; Covenant with Liberia; Congregational Community Organizing; Welcoming Immigrants; Next Steps with Native Americans; Disaster Response; Michigan Area Haiti Task Force; Walking with Hispanics/Latinos; and Prison Ministries.
An evening Mission Celebration capped the day. “The day has been book-ended by Bishop Ott bringing the word we needed to hear,” said Marsha Woolley, “and our guest this evening is Bishop Gregory Palmer, whose prophetic voice we need to hear.” Palmer, a close colleague of Bishop Deb, leads the Ohio West Area of The UMC. Drawing on a post-resurrection experience disciples had with Jesus, Palmer declared that spirit and flesh are intermingled. “So you can’t say, ‘I am a social action Christian,’ or ‘I am an evangelical Christian.’ Everybody out to be able to tell about Jesus and everybody ought to be able to give the cup of cold water in his name!” Establishing that there is “no slicing and dicing” when it comes to mission, Palmer acknowledged that “The United Methodist Church is not all it ought to be.” He then encouraged his listeners to stop running in the opposite direction and “find the capacity to run toward each other (to) give yourself in your local settings with everything you’ve got, all shortcomings notwithstanding.”
Sunday, June 12, 2016
Experience common to both annual conferences continued on Sunday morning and into the afternoon.
The morning plenary marked another new chapter in the life of United Methodists in Michigan. For the first time all 11 District Superintendents came to the stage as a team to set appointments and offer a report shared by the Rev. Anita Hahn, Cabinet Dean from West Michigan. She began by noting how the Detroit and West Michigan conferences have moved beyond “serious dating” and are “making life together work toward eventual marriage.” She added, “Now we all need to let go so God can fully fill our hands.” Hahn listed six things each district is passionate about:
- building relationships with pastors and churches;
- to be a companion that guides, leads and loves;
- offering training that equips and empowers local congregations;
- providing conference forms that provide solid ground and solid questions;
- the love of young adults and empowering them for leadership;
- enabling clergy use the gifts God has given them.
Next members of the Michigan Delegation to the 2016 General and Jurisdictional Conferences presented a report out of Portland. Click here for a video summary of the 2016 General Conference. The Rev. Charles Boayue, clergy and head of the DAC delegation, said, “General Conference was not a waste of time. Any assembly of two or three where God is present is never a waste of time.” Concerning the Council of Bishop’s plan for a commission for discernment around matters of human sexuality, Charles remarked, “I am never in favor of dividing the church. The church belongs to God. We have a tough road ahead. The votes are not there to make a significant change in The Discipline. But the votes are there to find a way.” He asked conference members to be in prayer and to “live your lives despite the entanglements of the General Conference.”
The chair of West Michigan’s delegation, Nichea Ver Veer Guy, praised the upcoming generation of United Methodists “The Young People’s Address by Peter Cibuabua and Chelsea Spyres came when General Conference needed jump starting,” Guy said. “They modelled for us what it is like to not worry so much about polity but just get down in there and be the church, engaged in profound ministry to people on the fringes.”
The Rev. Kennetha Bigham Tsai, clergy delegate from WMC, shared the work of the Connectional Table of which she is a member. (Full report in next week’s MIConnect.) She also reminded West Michigan members of their 2015 endorsement of The Third Way, “a compromise undergirded by value of unity for sake of mission.” She explained that most of the Third Way failed in legislative committee. While it could have been brought to the plenary floor, “By that time, our connection was at the point of fracture … It was just not the time in 2016 for The Third Way,” or for Rule 44 that proposed a form of Holy Conferencing as an alternative to Robert’s Rules of Order. Providing members details of the Bishops’ Way Forward, Bigham Tsai concluded, “It is time for holy conversation at the grassroots level.” Vice Chair of the DAC Delegation, Jackie Euper, added, “We asked the Bishops to show us a way.” She then asked those seated in Breslin Arena to spend moments sharing with each other “the implication and hope for your congregation in light of the Bishops’ letter and future Commission.”
The Delegations’ report concluded with a prayer by the Rev. Laurie Haller, WMC clergy delegate: “…We want to be one Body of Christ but there is a deep need in us to be right … We want to be, like Wesley, a people of the Book, but we confess we can us the Bible to say what we want it to say… Help us become our best and most grace-filled selves. Draw the circle, draw the circle wide. Amen.”
The final shared experience of Annual Conference 2016 was the Service of Commissioning and Ordination. Milestones in ministry were celebrated:
- 4 were commissioned for work as a Deacon (3 DAC; 1 WMC);
- 8 were commissioned for work as an Elder (5 DAC; 3 WMC);
- 1 DAC Deacon was ordained;
- 13 Elders were ordained (4 DAC; 9 WMC);
- Elders Orders were recognized for two DAC clergy.
On Sunday afternoon Bishop Deb washed the feet of ordinands commenting, “Some of you may wonder why I take time to do this. It reminds me I am always a servant. It is about serving God and about serving those God has called us to serve.” Her sermon challenged everyone to such servanthood, citing Mark 16:1-8. “We want Mark to finish the story. We don’t want to be left with an empty tomb and frightened followers. That’s too much unfinished business.” She concluded, “”Mark leaves us exactly where he wanted to. He didn’t want to end the story for us. He wants us to live out the story in our lives.” This was the last sermon she would preach as an active bishop in The United Methodist Church. Full text may be found here.
After the Service of Commissioning and Ordination, members of the Detroit Conference headed north, south and east to return home. Earlier in the day, the Rev. Marsha Woolley moved adjournment of the joint session of conference. “Who would have thought that this space could become holy? And yet, it has,” she said. “And could it be that while we said ‘yes’ to coming together in our heads, that we are now only beginning to experience it in our spirits?” Admitting that there is grief in the adjustments from years past, Marsha ended, “I am convinced that ‘the more we get together….the happier we’ll be. For your friends are my friends and my friends are your friends. The more we get together the happier we’ll be.’”
WEST MICHIGAN CONNECTIONS
But Sunday was not over. West Michigan members returned to Breslin Arena after dinner. Marking Sacred Time recognized those serving in Extension Ministries, Local Pastors and Retirees. Rev. Bernard Randolph was not present but was recognized as holder of the Conference Cane, the oldest living clergy member in West Michigan. Randolph retired in 1978 and recently celebrated his 100th birthday.
Though the ballot to endorse episcopal nominees was slated for Monday morning, a motion was made on Sunday evening for a unanimous vote of acclamation for two persons placed in nomination by the Michigan Area Delegation to General and Jurisdictional Conference. The motion passed and the Rev. Laurie Haller and the Rev. Kennetha Bigham Tsai have the blessing of the West Michigan Conference as they journey with 12 other nominees toward possible election at the North Central Jurisdictional Conference in Peoria. “I hope this is more than just a vote,” cautioned Bishop Deb. “I hope you are really embracing them whatever happens, for they are putting their lives on the line.” Kennetha told the Conference, “This is an experience of deep gratitude and blessing for the welcome of my gifts. I will act with integrity, grace and wisdom for the good of the church in representing you.” “All I want to say is thank you,” Laurie remarked. “I am a reflection of who you are.”
Monday, June 13, 2016
LEAD meetings filled early morning hours as members convened to consider items of business coming before the Conference for action.
The West Michigan Conference then “Gathered at the River” for the Memorial Service. Saints were named and water poured from bowl to basin in a manner similar to the Detroit Conference time of remembrance on June 8. The Rev. Susan Hagans, retired Elder of the West Michigan Conference, shared the message, “Living Letters.” Her opening prayer included the victims of the Orlando shooting the night before as well as those gathered to remember losses within the Annual Conference family. “God has made a covenant with each of us,” the preacher began. “The spirit of the living God was written on the hearts of those we remember here today… We receive their letters from Christ and we are all the beneficiaries of their faith.”
Legislation was picked up after lunch. West Michigan members:
- condemned indiscriminate stereotyping of Muslims;
- pledged to long-term solutions for the water crisis in Flint;
- denounced the idolatry of hand-guns and rapid-fire weapons;
- committed to keep WMC churches and ministries gun-free;
- advocated for restorative justice;
- promised to engage in Holy Conferencing toward witness of authentic unity;
- removed the rule binding the WMC to 100% payment of their World Service Apportionment;
- passed a 2017 budget.
There was rigorous debate of the 2017 budget. Record-low receipt of ministry shares resulted in deep cuts including programs for children, youth and young adults. Many spoke out on both the need for greater giving and renewed commitment to young people. The Rev. Joe Huston, member of the Conference Council on Finance and Administration, said, “I urge you to vote yes, not with a happy heart. This is not a happy budget and the answer is not in line items. The answer is in our hearts.” Similar tensions were expressed when the Conference voted to no longer guarantee payment of the World Service Apportionment at 100%. The Rev. Mona Dye, pastor of a three-point charge on the Heartland District, said, “I have a sick feeling in my stomach that I sometimes have at Ad Board> ‘It’s a little tough right now so let’s give less.’ But the goal is not to give how little we can. The goal is to give as much as we can give. World Service is important and we need to lead the way.”
With the time for adjournment at hand, the Rev. Dean Prentice said a prayer for Michigan’s episcopal virtuoso: “Thank you, God, for the way Bishop Deb has encouraged us to be all that we can be. She has helped us on this journey. Now new doors are opening for her and she is on a new journey, too.”
Bishop Deb went to the piano to play one last piece for The West Michigan Conference, Bind us Together, Lord. With that, six days of The Michigan Area Annual Conference concluded making beautiful music. It was an historic gathering, 2,000 members together under one roof for the first time. It was a time for refocusing the vision, equipping leaders, discovering new possibilities and making new friends. It was a time of rebirth and new beginnings.
As members look ahead to next year’s Annual Conference in Traverse City, June 1-4, 2017, they can anticipate many more happy moments of reunion: “Hey! I know you!” During the days spent in East Lansing, the state-wide Connection gained in strength, hope and love.