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AC blesses ‘a new thing’

The Detroit and West Michigan conferences move closer to union on January 1, 2019.

Senior Editor-Writer

ACME, Mich. — New location. New bishop. New Conference on the horizon. The Michigan Annual Conference promised to make history and it did during its session in Acme, Michigan, June 1-4, 2017.On Thursday, June 1, Bishop David A. Bard presided over his first Annual Conference business session since his appointment to the Michigan Area last July in Peoria, IL.As soon as the session was “organized,” the bishop welcomed Design Team Co-Chair, Rev. Marsha Woolley, to the microphone. Her report began, “We have come to believe we are, indeed, better together.” She and colleague, Rev. Dr. Glenn Wagner, summarized the vision, model, and focus of the plan coming to the Conference for approval. Then Woolley concluded, “At a time when it seems more comfortable to maintain the status quo, we choose to do a new thing.”

Steps toward union

Two years of meetings and many listening sessions around the state separated her moment at the podium from the moment the new Michigan Conference was conceived two years ago. On “Count Day,” June 10, 2015, announcement was made: “The vote is Detroit Conference 718 yes and 75 no; West Michigan 551 yes and 83 no. We have discerned that now is the time for our two annual conferences to become one!”

Two years of work by the Design Team came to fruition at the 2017 Annual Conference. The Rev. Marsha Woolleey and Rev. Dr. Glenn Wagner (right) served as Co-Chairs of the team. ~mic photo/Hannah Hazen

No longer are decisions being made by two annual conferences separated by several days and many miles. As in 2016, the Detroit and West Michigan Annual Conferences met at the same site this year. Unlike 2016, members came together for a common experience separated only by the color of their voting cards. And when those cards were raised at 7:45 pm Saturday evening, June 3, the promise made two years ago was sealed. A Plan of Organization, with no amendments, had been adopted that will enable the Design Team, Full Cabinet, Committees on Nomination and others to take next steps toward union as the Michigan Conference come January 1, 2019.

A comment before the vote by the Rev. Kenneth Bigham-Tsai, summed up the mood of the house: “We have ways to give the Design Team feedback over the next year. This 38-page Plan of Organization has been worked on a worked on and worked on. Let’s approve this today so that we have our new annual conference and can move on with all necessary details. The purpose of this plan is to get ministry off the top of the hierarchy into the grassroots.”

Other major legislation also focused on Design Team proposals: 1) adoption of the Nine-District Recommendation; 2) approval for creation of a Legal and Financial Task Force to take next steps in the implementation of the Nine-District Plan; and 3) adoption of a comprehensive 9-point Pension and Health Benefits package for the new Michigan Conference.

Other action items

Social Action items were few this year by request of Conference planners. The Detroit Conference affirmed the biblical call to be peacemakers, including restriction of first-use of nuclear weapons. Two other Detroit Conference items, calling for clergy adherence to the Book of Discipline regarding matters of human sexuality, were defeated.

Baskets were an important part of Jesus’ feeding the multitude. Baskets were also an important part of the 2017 Annual Conference. Twenty baskets of personal care items were carried to conference for the Safe Harbor homeless shelter in Traverse City. Offering baskets were filled with $66,762 for ministries in Haiti and Liberia. And a new “e-basket” offered by Camping Ministries netted $8,200 for camp scholarships. ~mic photo/Hannah Hazen

Significant time was spent on Saturday discussing and voting on five amendments to the Constitution of The United Methodist Church coming from the 2016 General Conference. Items were presented by Rev. Dr. Charles Boayue (Detroit) and Nichea Ver Veer Guy (West Michigan), chairpersons of Michigan’s General Conference delegations. Following questions and debate, clergy and lay members in full connection voted on the amendments by written ballot.

The focus of the five amendments:
1.    Gender Equality: declares men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God;
2.    Inclusion in Membership: amends Par. 4 to add gender, ability, age, and marital status to list of characteristics that do not bar people from membership;
3.    Delegate Elections: requires open nominations from the floor of annual conference for election of delegates to General, Jurisdictional and Central Conferences;
4.    Election of Central Conference Bishops: must be elected at a regular, not an extra, session unless an unexpected vacancy occurs;
5.    Bishop Accountability: provides for Council of Bishops to hold individual bishops accountable. Currently, complaints are handled in the region where a bishop is elected.

There was considerable discussion on amendments 1 and 2 with no discussion on the other three. The Conference was not informed of the vote count. Ballots will be canvassed by the Council of Bishops and the Detroit and West Michigan Conferences’ votes will be added to those of every other United Methodist Annual Conference. In order to become church law, a constitutional amendment must receive a 2/3s majority of all Annual Conference votes cast. The Council of Bishops will announce the results after all Annual Conferences have returned their ballots.

Click here for a more detailed account of the eight hours spent in legislative action at the 2017 Annual Conference. The full details of the Design Team proposals and all other legislative items may be read here.

The keynote teacher in 2017 was the Rev. Susan Beaumont, consultant, coach and spiritual director. An ordained minister with the American Baptist Church, she is a native of Troy, Michigan. “This feels like home,” she said. ~mic photo/Hannah Hazen

Getting our bearings

Over the past several years, the learning segment of annual conference has become a precious and exciting time for many members. This year the Rev. Susan Beaumont took her place in the list of guest teachers that also includes the Rev. Lovett Weems, Jr., Rev. Adam Hamilton, Rev. Jorge Acevedo, and Marcia McFee. A native of Troy, Michigan, Beaumont, a former senior consultant for Alban Institute, began, “This feels like being home.”

In her first session, “Leading in a Liminal Season,” she defined “liminality” as “an era which finds us neither here nor there, between a known past and a questionable future.” She noted that such a mood not only describes Michigan’s two annual conferences but the United Methodist denomination and the national and global arenas as well. She described the leadership style required for such a time as this: “Leading with presence requires three shifts in stance: from knowing to unknowing; from advocating to attending; and from striving to surrender.”

“Tending the Soul of the Institution” was the focus of Beaumont’s second session. Acknowledging the importance of standing still to let the Holy Spirit work through us, she added, “If you only stand and wonder, you don’t last very long.” She described the “divine spark” within a congregation or a conference as “the truest self of that institution.” Deepening discernment, shaping memory, clarifying vocation, and engaging emergence were cited as ways to live through unsettled times. “In the gap between the old-world order and the emergence of the new world order, we are freest to discover new direction. Innovation will occur if we allow and support the natural unfolding of emergence.”

Summaries of Susan Beaumont’s two sessions, including links to videos may be found here.

For the first time the Detroit and West Michigan conferences celebrated a joint Service of Memorial and Remembrance. The lives of those who died since last annual conference were represented by a cloth strip that was woven into a holy fabric onstage. ~mic photo/Hannah Hazen

Conference members also found spiritual grounding in daily worship. Conference preachers—Bishop David Bard, Rev. Eric Mulanda, and Rev. Zack Dunlap—offered insight and inspiration around a common theme … Christ’s feeding of the multitude. “We are hearing an abundance of sermons on abundance,” Dunlap quipped on Saturday as he took to the pulpit for the third in the series. Click here for a feature that provides sermon summaries and links to full manuscripts.

Keeping the vision

“The Michigan Conference equips and connects through Christ-centered: Mission & Ministry; Bold & Effective Leaders; Vibrant Congregations.” While the new Michigan Conference is yet to be born, members got a foretaste of that vision on Friday afternoon.

Under the banner, “Bold & Effective Leaders,” the Rev. Karl Ziegler, retired Detroit Conference clergy, reported on the Michigan Area Haiti Task Force’s sponsorship of a Local Preachers Academy in Haiti. The effort emerged out of the Covenant Renewal process in 2015. With the help of 15 elders from Michigan, 115 Local Preachers were accredited during the February 4, 2017 Bicentennial of The Methodist Church in Haiti celebrated in Port Au Prince. “These 115 persons can now administer the sacraments alongside the 15 ordained elders who serve in Haiti.” Ziegler thanked the Area for $75,000 of support for the effort.

Two other bold and effective leaders were recognized earlier in the session. Conference Treasurer David Dobbs announced the recipients of the John Buxton Award. Given annually to recognize creative leadership. Detroit Conference Deacon Paul Perez was named for his service as founding Director of Justice For Our Neighbors Southeastern Michigan and for ministry done in his present role as Director of Mission & Justice Engagement and Leadership Recruitment. The Rev. Faith Green Timmons, pastor of Flint: Bethel UMC was honored for “turning the church into a beacon” during the water crisis and recovery in the city. John Buxton was a layman who was instrumental in strengthening the pension program of the Detroit Conference. His wife, Sue, serves as the Conference Facilitator.

The spokesman for “Vibrant Congregations” was the Rev. Dirk Elliott, Director of New Church Development for the Michigan Area. “The 2016 General Conference announced an effort to make 1 million new disciples over the next four years,” Elliott reported. “Translating that to the Michigan Area, our goal is to start 13 new churches, 127 faith communities and 1,260 small groups during this quadrennium.” He lifted up several recent “adoption” stories—Potterville is now a Sycamore Creek campus; Bay City 1st and Bay City Christ are now Bay City Grace; South Wyoming is one of the several multi-sites of Cornerstone Church. The Rev. Jeremy Wicks was introduced as the planting pastor for a new church in Traverse City.

L-r: Rev. Dirk Elliott, Toinette and Jeremy Wicks stand with Bishop David Bard. The bishop offered a blessing for the new church start in Traverse City. ~mic photo/Hannah Hazen

Bold and Effective Leaders and Vibrant Congregations were at the center again on Sunday as the morning worship experience wrapped around the Cabinet Report shared by Dean Elbert Dulworth. “The 2012 General Conference declared that District Superintendents are expected to be chief missional strategists for their district,” Dulworth said. “That task is not always easy. On some days it is easier to feel like a fire chief than a chief missional strategist.” He then added. “We must figure out what fires we just might have to let burn. For new growth can be possible after a controlled burn.”

The Cabinet Dean celebrated the joint working of the Area Cabinet, that made 120 new appointments for 2017-2018. By working together, “we are setting an example of what one conference can be like.” The full text of Rev. Dulworth’s remarks will be published in the June 14 edition of MIConnect.

Members learned they have a Cabinet Choir as the Bishops and District Superintendents serenaded those to be ordained later in the day with the hymn, “You Are the Seed.” The Bishop said goodbye to Rev. Tamara Williams (Albion District) and the Rev. Elbert Dulworth (Marquette District). He then welcomed Rev. Dale Miller (Albion) and the Rev. Scott Harmon (Marquette). It was announced that the Rev. Bill Haggard will serve as Dean of the Cabinet starting July 1, 2017.

Members of the Michigan Area Cabinet serenade those to be ordained Deacon and Elder during their report on Sunday morning. L-r: Revs Anita Hahn (Grand Traverse), Elbert Dulworth (Marquette), Charles Boayue (Detroit Renaissance),, John Hice (Crossroads), Elizabeth Hill (Blue Water) and Kennetha Bigham-Tsai (Lansing). ~mic photo/Hannah Hazen

On Sunday morning, the Rev. Gary Step, Area Director of Congregational Excellence announced that Manistee and Flint: Calvary UMCs were recipients of 2016 “One Matters Awards.” Discipleship Ministries confers this recognition to churches that “turn zeros into positive numbers” with baptisms and professions of faith. Learn more about those Vision Keepers here.

On Sunday afternoon Bishop David Bard ordained and commissioned new leaders, telling them, “You have answered the call not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.”  He offered words of encouragement: Take care of yourself … Know you are not alone … and, Never forget your calling. See full text here.

The Michigan Area welcomes:

  • Commissioned for the work of the Deacon: Rodney Gasaway;
  • Commissioned for the work of the Elder: Dillon Burns, Matthew Chapman, Elise Edwardson, Tiffany Newsom, and Brian Steele
  • Ordained as Deacons: Sue Pethoud, Thomas Snyder, Nancy Fancher, Georgia Hale
  • Ordained as Elders: Christine Beaudoin, Benjamin Bower, Timothy Callow, Sungjoon (Paul) Hahm, Lindsey Hall, Andrew Lee, Bradley Luck, Chad Parmalee, and Michael Riegler;
  • Recognized as an Associate Member: James Payne;
  • Completing Course of Study: Rochelle Hunter, Esther Irish, Betty Leitelt, Terri Cummins, Mona Dye, Kevin Guetschow, and Anne Riegler.

Earlier in the week, a symbolic mantle was passed from the 33 retiring pastors, representing 853 years of combined service, to these new leaders.

Now the 2017 Annual Conference session is over. Some history-making things happened. Many ordinary things happened that have happened every year at Annual Conference. Historic or ordinary or something in between, the members of the Detroit and West Michigan conferences did it all to the glory of God.

 ~For a full photo album go to Flickr/Michigan Area