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Conference worships, celebrates, and mourns

Bishop David Bard preaches in the opening worship service of the 2022 Annual Confernce.

Members of the 2022 Michigan Annual Conference gathered in Acme, MI June 1-4 for worship, celebration, and time for mourning.

JAMES DEATON
Content Editor

June 1, 2022 | ACME, Mich.–The 2022 Annual Conference theme, “Mourning to Dancing,” set the tone for the conference, and attendees worshiped, celebrated, and grieved together throughout the week. Psalm 30:11 was the source of the theme: “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” It speaks to the resilient spirit God gives to us as we move from pain and loss to healing and restoration. And so, when conference planners chose the theme last year, little did they know the deeper significance it would have, given the current state of the world and the church.

Opening Worship

Annual Conference officially opened Thursday afternoon as over 1,500 clergy and laity gathered for worship in Governors’ Hall. It was a beautiful homecoming as Michiganders from Houghton to Detroit, from East Lansing to New Buffalo, and from Saginaw to Muskegon met as God’s people. It had been three years since all Michigan United Methodists had worshiped together in one place, and the reunion was bittersweet.

There was abundant joy in singing, albeit masked, and hearing God’s word proclaimed. Stories of resilience punctuated worship time. Pastor George Pamp from Kewadin Indian Mission UMC welcomed everyone with graciousness, following a spoken recognition of the native land on which Conference gathered. Conference member Lisa Fedel told her story via video of how she survived a car accident caused by a drunk driver and thrives today.

But there was also a need for mourning, especially during the Time of Memorial, as names of clergy, clergy spouses, and laity who have died since the last session of the Annual Conference were read aloud. Space was also given to mourn the countless lives lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Opening worship at the 2022 Michigan Annual Conference was punctuated by mourning and celebration.
During a sacred time of remembering beloved lives lost since the last session of Annual Conference, Skyelea Martin-Fitch and three other liturgical dancers lead worshipers in praise and thanksgiving. ~ MIphoto/Jonathan Trites

Bishop David Bard’s sermon, “Bad Luck Streak at Dancing School,” unpacked the Conference theme by challenging everyone first to engage the string of difficult truths United Methodists face right now—persistent pandemic, gun violence, racial reckoning, a church that is fracturing. The bishop asked, “If we are not spending some significant time in mourning and lament in this world in which we live, how alive are we?”

The bishop then spoke of the change that occurs when our ministry with those who are mourning is transformed. God begins to work in human lives, and a new song is heard. “The bad luck streak at dancing school is turned into a grand ball where everyone is welcome to cut a rug.” Read the full text of the bishop’s sermon here.

Later in the afternoon, in his state of the church address during the plenary session, the bishop echoed themes from his sermon: “And God is not finished with us yet. With God there is always possibility, new life, new beginnings. God is always up to something new. God is always at work creatively in God’s own unique time signatures.”

Bishop Bard reminded his listeners that the Michigan Conference’s vision is centered on Jesus Christ. He then highlighted ways United Methodists can fulfill this vision. He encouraged congregations to participate in the forthcoming Anti-Bias/Anti-Racism Education and Training Program and the Cross-Racial/Cross-Cultural Support Plan, both of which will be launched this summer. “It is our hope that these two initiatives will equip and empower pastors and laity alike using a content, coaching, and cohort model that moves us all toward actively becoming anti-biased/anti-racist.”

Carrie Newcomer Concert

On Thursday evening, singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer held a private concert for Conference members. Born in Dowagiac, Newcomer has produced 19 solo album and has received numerous awards for her music and charitable activities.

Carrie Newcomer, singer and writer, perform during the 2022 Michigan Annual Conference.
Singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer and pianist Gary Walters perform in a Thursday evening concert for conference attendees. ~ MIphoto/Jonathan Trites

Newcomer brought a message of resiliency, spiritual connection, and hope to attendees. Her latest album and companion book of poems, Until Now, explores the process of unraveling and reweaving the threads of our lives, and the possibility of transformation after crisis.

Ordinand Celebration

The Service of Recognition, Commissioning, and Ordination was a celebratory end to Friday’s activities as individuals called to set-apart ministry were presented and blessed. This year’s service was particularly joyous because it was the first full-scale service since 2019.

In his sermon, Bishop Bard challenged the candidates to embrace their calling considering the violence and divisions consuming our world. “The world waits for some wise and wild voices to lead us back to spiritual sanity.” The bishop urged them to cultivate practices of wisdom which will shape their ministry. “Wisdom guides us to develop as leaders with large souls, capacious hearts, expansive minds; leaders with soft fronts, firm backs, and wild and courageous hearts.” Read the full text of the bishop’s sermon here.

Ordination service for United Methodist elders and deacons.
Bishop David Bard lays hands on an ordinand during the annual Service of Recognition, Commissioning, and Ordination Service at the 2022 Michigan Annual Conference. ~ MIphoto/Jonathan Trites

Three candidates were ordained as deacon, and 14 were ordained as elder. Almost 20 individuals from the Course of Study classes of 2019-21 were recognized. Two were commissioned for the work of a deacon and seven for the work of an elder. Four individuals were either recognized or transferred as Associate or Full Members of The Michigan Conference.

Review the full list of ordinands here.

Closing Worship

God’s Spirit moved through Saturday morning’s closing worship, as the Rev. Dr. Ron Bell exhorted The Michigan Conference to trust the presence and grace of God as the church moves through this current season of trauma to healing and growth.

Bell, a United Methodist pastor and author from St. Paul, MN, was the keynote speaker and preacher for this year’s Annual Conference. His expertise on race, trauma, empathy, and grief dovetailed perfectly with this year’s Annual Conference theme. On Friday, he led a teaching session on resilience practices we can use to navigate trauma.

Preacher Ron Bell proclaims the path to post-traumatic growth during Annual Conference.
Rev. Dr. Ron Bell preached on the path to post-traumatic growth in the closing worship of the 2022 Michigan Annual Conference. ~ MIphoto/Jonathan Trites

In Bell’s sermon, he pointed to two scriptures that illustrate post-traumatic growth, from mourning to dancing. David and the people of Israel in 1 Samuel 30 had lost everything in battle and wept. But David strengthened himself in the Lord and their fortunes returned, as voiced in Psalm 126: “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy” (v. 4).

Bell noted that God is the agent of change in our lives as well: “Post-traumatic growth is this idea that what was supposed to kill me, to take me out of here . . . somewhere in the midst of that, I saw God moving and I connected and caught on.” God is the one who brings us from places of mourning to dancing.

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