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Conference takes care of business

Plenary gets down to business

“This is what we are here for.” For many members, the heart of the Annual Conference is the raising of the card to vote on the business at hand.

KAY DEMOSS
Senior Content Editor

The 2022 Michigan Annual Conference clocked fewer total hours than previous conferences. Legislative committees met virtually the week before members traveled to Acme, MI. Many reports typically delivered on stage were available online for members’ viewing. 

However, critical administrative matters needed members’ discernment and action. Resolutions passed that cared for issues and needs in the life of the conference, its congregations, and our neighbors. The Conference Trustees guided members through the solemn business of church closures and disaffiliations. The Council on Finance and Administration presented a budget that “addresses the ongoing financial challenges, shifting to zero-based budgeting … and taking a long view to establish a pathway toward funding for the future.”

The business of the conference got done.

Diane Brown getting business underway
Diane Brown, the Legislative Coordinator for the 2022 Annual Conference, gets business underway. ~ MIphoto/Jonathan Trites

LEGISLATIVE ACTION

When Diane Brown, Legislative Coordinator for the Annual Conference, steps to the microphone and says, “Good morning, Church!” members know it’s time to get ready to vote.

Two of the very significant actions taken by AC 2022 – Reducing the number of districts from nine to seven and approving a $480,000 campaign called “Readers to Leaders” — were approved on the Consent Calendar on Thursday afternoon without debate. (Items appearing on the Consent Calendar received 90% or more concurrence in the legislative committees meeting in virtual session last week.)

Readers to Leaders #2022-4

On Thursday, Conference members adopted a state-wide fundraising campaign that will bless children in Michigan and Liberia. “Readers to Leaders” encourages each Michigan congregation to raise at least $600 before March 1, 2023. These dollars will benefit the conference’s Liberia Scholarship Program and Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools.

The Michigan Conference Liberia Ministry Partners estimate that $300 covers the school fees for one student in a UM school in Liberia. The campaign hopes to fund 100 students for eight years of schooling. Ministry Partner’s Chair Jon Reynolds said, “I have met parents in Liberia who must decide which one of their children can go to school and which child must work in the marketplace to raise support for their sibling.” He added, “Your gift is a small way to turn mourning into dancing in this moment of challenge. We can make a difference in people’s lives we will never get to meet.”

The Michigan Conference operates two CDF Freedom Schools; one at Detroit: Second Grace UMC and the other at Flint: Bethel UMC. Literacy and cultural enrichment are at the heart of the six-week summer program serving young people K-12. The goal is to raise $240,000 to increase the number of CDF sites. Lisa Batten, Conference Coordinator of Young Adult Ministries, thanked conference members for their support.

As Reynolds and Batten left the stage, Bishop Bard said, “I am asking every church to raise $50 a month for the next year. So please take this seriously and joyfully.”

Lisa Batten speaks to business of leadership training
The Revs. Jon Reynolds and Lisa Batten thank the 2022 Michigan Annual Conference for their support of the “Readers to Leaders” financial campaign. The fund drive will benefit students in Michigan and Liberia. ~ MIphoto/Jonathan Trites

District Working Group Report #2022-7

The 2021 Michigan Annual Conference formed a District Working Group tasked with reporting to AC 2022. The District Working Group recommended the reduction of nine districts to seven districts, effective July 1, 2023, which was approved by conference members this year. The bishop will determine the boundaries of these seven districts, with “penciling in” starting November 22, 2022, to be finalized by February 1, 2023.

The Working Group’s plan should be able “to hold for 2-3 years and not require additional reductions while maintaining a level of capacity required to navigate the challenges ahead.”

The July 1, 2023 start time aligns with the appointment year and allows “time for the anticipated launch of new Methodist entities in late 2022 through early 2023. Transitional staffing to be considered by conference directors and the cabinet.

Gun Violence #2022-16

Six months after the village of Oxford, MI experienced the tragic school shooting that killed four students and injured seven others, the Michigan Annual Conference voted overwhelmingly to take action to address the rise in gun violence. In the 20 days leading up to AC 2022, mass shootings in Buffalo, NY, Uvalde, TX, and Tulsa, OK, had claimed 36 lives. These events prompted six conference clergy members to bring a request to the floor on Thursday afternoon to suspend the rules to introduce late legislation, which members approved. Copies of Resolution 2022-16 were distributed and brought back for debate and action on Friday. In presenting the resolution, one of the writers, the Rev. Ian Boley, encouraged those present to tell their stories.

Young people and parents shared powerful and passionate statements, including the witness of the Rev. Timothy and Chris Woycik, whose daughter Holly was gunned down in September 2004. Woycik pleaded with the conference to help “make sensible gun legislation.” Now in high school, a young woman spoke of a nearby school shooting, causing her to “live in constant fear.” A pastor and mother, Stephanie Norton, rose to say, “It blows my mind that we love our guns more than we love our kids. We need more than thoughts and prayers. Let’s put our hands to work.” Calling himself “part of a traumatized generation,” the Rev. Paul Reissmann declared, “As clergy, I vote for the Kingdom of God. Let’s not learn war anymore.”

The resolution called for specific actions, including participation in the End Gun Violence Now movement, contacting legislative leaders regarding enhanced background checks, and reinstatement of the ban on assault weapons. Following the vote, Bishop Bard prayed, “out of a deep peacefulness of heart, may we create a more peaceful world for us all.”

Couple speaks out against guns
The Rev. Timothy and Chris Woycik speak in support of the resolution against gun violence presented during the Friday afternoon plenary. “I would like [our daughter] Holly to be here, but in September 2004 she was murdered,” her father said. ~ MIphoto/Jonathan Trites

Cancellation of Federal Student Loan Debt #2022-5

This resolution was submitted by the Michigan Conference Board of Young People’s Ministries, and it generated robust debate. Many people shared personal stories. Several told how their substantial debt was paid off by either COVID relief or inheritance. Members were reminded that student debt is “an intergenerational issue” as second career persons return to school in their 40s and 50s. Others raised concerns around fairness, accountability, and federal deficit spending.

The presenter, Elizabeth Hurd, emphasized that the resolution calls for sustained advocacy and not a specific governmental or other solution.

One who submitted the legislation, the Rev. Scott Marsh, recalled, “Conference members laughed three years ago when ordinands were asked Wesley’s historical question about debt. Christ speaks to debt forgiveness throughout the Gospel. Debt is impacting the church and ministry. I call on you to do something about it.”

The resolution as passed calls United Methodists to “stand for the partial cancellation of federal student loan debt … through correspondence with elected officials.” Further, it asks for “commitment to making student debt relief and advocating for reducing the cost of higher education as a long-term missional priority for The Michigan Conference” through various means.  

In other action, conference members

  • advocated for a U.S. Peace Economy #2022-8
  • affirmed Actions for The Future of The UMC, including the Covenant to Build BeLoved Community, an open letter by UMC leaders titled A Call to Grace, and A Narrative for the Continuing United Methodist Church from the Council of Bishops #2022-9
  • encouraged contacting legislators to support Immigrant Driver’s Licenses/State I.D.s #2022-10
  • defeated Recognition of Michigan Chapter WCA as a source of information #2022-6
  • annual recommendations for minimum salary of clergy, equitable compensation, and Board of Pensions and Health Benefits resolutions were passed.
  • postponed action on the Good Time Ballot Initiative # 2022-11
  • Recognize the Unborn Baby #2022-12 did not come to the floor for a vote because of time constraints.

Further detail on all resolutions may be found in the Voting Items Booklet and 2022 Legislation Report.


CORPORATE SESSION, BOARD OF TRUSTEES

In his online Trustees’ Report, Chairperson Jim LeBaron named significant issues before the board since the conference last met: conference assets, Boy Scouts of America settlements, disaffiliation, and oversight of closed church property. “This has been exacerbated by the COVID influence on diminished attendance and giving throughout our local churches, which potentially translates to further closures.”

LeBaron applied the conference theme, “Mourning to Dancing,” to the work of the Trustees. Trustees are “mourning the accelerating closures and attendant grief each congregation experiences as they realize their beloved church is dying.” Yet, the board is “celebrating the addition of Pastor Larry Embury as a ‘shepherding’ resource to work with closing congregations.”

Trustee business handled by Jim LeBaron
Jim LeBaron, chair of the Conference Trustees, tells the Conference that it is “a draining role. There is a lot of mourning” in shepherding the closure and disaffiliation of United Methodist churches. ~ MIphoto/Jonathan Trites

During the plenary on Saturday, LeBaron called upon the Rev. Dr. Jerome DeVine, Dean of the Cabinet, to present the Legacy Reports of ten churches. These included:

  • Grand Rapids: Genesis UMC; closed Nov. 29, 2021. “For 25 years, Genesis Church communicated the Gospel in distinctively different ways so that persons could grow and become mature followers of Jesus Christ.
  • Kent City: Chapel Hill UMC; closed May 31, 2021. “This little church in the middle of the cornfield is offering a big hunk of Jesus to all who step through its doors.”
  • Lansing: First UMC; January 1, 2022. “As they closed, they were able to gift many things to other United Methodist churches, to outreach ministries and community groups.”
  • Lulu UMC; April 1, 2022. “Lulu UMC has been a fixture at the main crossroad in the town of Lulu, in Ida Township since the early 19002.”
  • Minden City UMC, January 1, 2022. “Minden City UMC was ever eager to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
  • Monroe: Calvary UMC, December 1, 2021. “Monroe Calvary UMC was known as a praying church.”
  • Redford New Beginnings UMC, January 1, 2022. “The church was formed with the merger of Rice Memorial UMC and Lola Valley UMC in 2005.”
  • Fenwick UMC, September 6, 2022. “Our mission is to serve our community with God’s love.”
  • Vickeryville UMC, September 6, 2022. “A small community church with a big heart, led by the Holy Spirit, caring and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the world.”
  • Palo UMC, September 6, 2022. “We are a caring church family guided by the Holy Spirit, teaching God’s love by accepting everyone unconditionally.”

DeVine moved the closure of the churches. Before voting, LeBaron said, “This is not a token vote. You bring to a formal close … the life of those ten churches. That’s a remarkable responsibility.” For the full Legacy Report, click here.

LeBaron then guided the conference in the closure and disaffiliation of four other churches, according to Paragraph 2553 of the 2016 Book of Discipline: Battle Creek: Baseline UMC, Canton Friendship UMC, Northwest UMC (Kalamazoo), and Twin Lake UMC. After these votes were taken, Bishop Bard observed, “We hold together mourning and dancing and, right now, mourning is in the foreground. It is a moment of separation. But we trust we can work amid our brokenness.”

Bishop Bard urged members to review the Report of the Cabinet offered by Dean Jerome DeVine to understand further “how we intend to continue to work with this process as best we can to bless each other.”

 

FINANCE AND ADMINISTRATION

The Rev. Brad Bartelmay presented the annual report of the Council on Finance and Administration in a video format. Watch it here.

He began, “In many ways, 2021 was a challenging year for the conference from a financial standpoint, but there are things to celebrate even in the most challenging circumstances.” He applauded the hiring of Angie Anger as the new Chief Financial Officer for the Michigan Conference. He also thanked the Rev. Don Emmert for “steady guidance as Interim CFO in 2020 and 2021.”

Bartelmay noted that Ministry Share remittance continues to weaken. “I can celebrate with you that the number of churches who paid Ministry Shares in full increased slightly this year; unfortunately, this was more than offset by the decline in total received in remittances.” Total remittances in 2021 were down 8%.

Business leaders Bartelmay, Anger, and Emmert
Brad Bartelmay, left, welcomes new Michigan Conference CFO Angie Anger and thanks Interim CFO Don Emmert for standing in for these past two years. Bartelmay serves as chairperson of the Conference Council on Finance and Administration. ~ MIphoto/Jonathan Trites

After a thorough study, a task force examining the formula used to apportion ministry shares concluded that the current formula “could not be improved upon in any meaningful way.”

Bartelmay thanked congregations and pastors who prioritize support for “the connectional ministries fundamental to our Wesleyan heritage.” He went on to ask other pastors and finance committees to rise above a pattern of underperformance. “The Michigan Conference’s Financial well-being cannot be expected to improve until each church, and each clergy accepts and lives into responsibilities as put forth in the Book of Discipline,” he stated.

The 2023 Conference Budget was presented during the Saturday afternoon plenary. Bartelmay noted that the $11,608,106 total is a 4.1% reduction from 2022. While reduced, the budget does allow raises for the conference staff, who have not seen an increase for the past two years. “We moved toward what is just in an inflationary environment,” Bartelmay said. However, he also cautioned, “This budget will reduce reserves if we decline further in the remittance of Ministry Shares.”

The budget was approved as amended by CFA with the removal of numbers 3 and 4 in the opening section of the motion found on page 1. Find the 2023 Budget of The Michigan Conference here.

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