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2017 Annual Conference

In this month’s blog, Rev. Benton Heisler covers “the basics” of Annual Conference.

Director of Connectional Ministries, WMC

Every religion, profession, artistic expression and recipe has some element of “the basics.” What is fascinating is how persons in each of these categories may have a different list of those “basics”, but none the less the elements noted are usually critical to the essence of what is being expressed or created.

The following summary and details of Annual Conference basics are redundant. These details will appear in other places, have been shared in various contexts and have been compiled and reviewed by a number of persons. My purpose in using my blog article space to repeat them is an effort to help as many people as possible be informed and prepared as we move toward our Annual Conference in three weeks.

Some of you many not choose to read all 200 pages of the material that has been provided for this Annual Conference’s action. My hope is that many of you will at least read the following four pages of “basics” so that you will have an overall understanding of how this Annual Conference will be both unique and common when compared to previous years.

2017 Annual Conference Legislation Process Summary

We are active United Methodists! And this year’s Annual Conference will be a reflection of that activity. As we have been working to create a new Annual Conference, we have been working with rules, processes, structures and practices from two conferences. A lot of work has been done to help us participate in an effective and meaningful session under one set of rules and processes. This summary will provide you with context behind our planning efforts.

The following groups have collaborated in this planning, so that the Annual Conference is able to address in an orderly and timely manner the vast amount of material that is coming before the Conference in 2017:  the Area Annual Conference Program Committee, the Design Team, the Detroit Committee on Reference and Daily Procedure (ReDaP) and the West MI Rules of Order Committee.

We will begin our Annual Conference with the opportunity to worship, meet separately in sessions as the Laity and Clergy, welcome our bishop, hear an overview report from the Design Team co-chairs and experience our first teaching session from the Rev. Susan Beaumont, our keynote presenter.

Our first plenary action item will be to adopt the Rules of Order that have been proposed to guide our time. Following this action we will hear a brief Pension and Health Benefits Report that will prepare us to take action on three pairs of identical pension-related items that require our annual action — legislation Items #24 & 27, 25 & 29, 17 and 28.

Friday morning we begin the day with Legislative Committees. Assigned to every committee for discussion are #2 Structure and #3 Re-Districting. We will not entertain any amendments to those two items in Legislative Committees, but will have an opportunity to ask questions of Design Team members who will participate in each Committee and discuss these critical actions before they come before us in Plenary. Other petitions/resolutions have been distributed for action and/or discussion as noted.  Petitions/resolutions are grouped or scattered in a manner we have hoped will best inform and expedite each committee’s work. At 5:30 PM Friday, the Legislative Committee Summary Report is scheduled to be distributed. 

Saturday morning at the first plenary session at 10:15 AM, we are scheduled to address the General Conference Constitutional Amendments. This will be followed by addressing the following legislation items that have been assigned for action in Plenary only, in accordance with Rule

  1. Structure #2
  2. Re-districting #3
  3. CFA Policies #5
  4. JDC Report Items #6
  5. Combined Policies Motion for #’s 7-12
  6. Each Conference’s Nominations Report

When our legislative work in plenary is complete, we will debate and vote on each conference’s budget (#26 & 327).

Our overriding hope is that the Conference members will take swift action on the more routine and common items, so that committee and plenary time will be available for thorough discussion on items of unique or compelling interest in this transition year.

Our additional hope, outlined by this process and these assignments, is that the other items distributed to committees for action will be approved and placed on a Consent Calendar. Obviously as needed, some may come to the plenary — if they do not receive the 90% approval threshold for the Consent Calendar or received a non-consent vote — and be dealt with in accordance with our newly adopted Rules of Order.

Each member of the Conference will have a colored voting card to lift during voting in the Plenary as well as the legislative committees. Orange cards will be for West MI and blue for Detroit. The Bishop, or legislative committee chair, will let us know when an item is being voted on by a separate Conference and when our votes are as a combined Conference.

We are most grateful for the collaborative effort that has been demonstrated by these leadership teams and we look forward to the fruitful work of the Annual Conference. If you have questions about this process, please contact Diane Brown ( or Laura Witkowski (


A Brief Overview of Design Team Voting Items

  • Rules of Order                                                                                                                                  The proposed rules are the result of collaboration between the Design Team, the West Michigan Conference Rules of Order Committee, and the Detroit Conference Committee on Reference and Daily Procedure (ReDaP). The proposal is a reflection of existing rules the conferences already have in common. There are also some changes, such as the elimination of the “response petition” process that has been a part of the West Michigan rules. Instead, opportunity for amendments will take place in Legislative Committees and/or on the plenary floor. Districts will no longer select Lay Equalization members. Instead, Lay Equalization members will be selected by the Board of Laity. There will also be proportional representation for each church based on one lay member for every 173 members (the previous ratio in the Detroit Conference was 1/233 members). This action will increase the representation for local congregations. The new rules also propose that there be no limit on ballots for the General and Jurisdictional Delegates, which currently has a six ballot limit.
  • Structure                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     The proposed structure focuses on equipping and connecting local congregations for vibrant ministry. For this reason, some agencies are consolidated and have the flexibility to create ministry teams/task forces. Administration and programmatic agencies will work closely together, aligning Vision, The Book of Discipline of The UMC – 2016 requirements, and available resources to create effective ministries in our communities. The new structure of 49 boards and agencies, with 403 positions, will contribute to and allow for new ideas and ministries to emerge. One net result of the new structure is that 574 persons who currently serve in the combined structures of the Michigan Area will now be available to contribute to ministry in their local congregations and districts.
  • Re-Districting                                                                                                                                      Please see the report and rationale that accompanies the two related legislation Items #3 and #4.
  • Council on Finance and Administration                                                                                          These proposed policies reflect the collaborative work of the Joint Council on Finance and Administration (CFA) task force. The policies include actions and guidelines that have effectively served the Conferences and have guided the CFA’s in their fiduciary responsibilities. The most significant changes are in the apportionment formula to be based on a congregation’s expenditures and the use of the term “Ministry Shares” as the name of the formula.
  • Joint Distributing Committee: Pension and Health Benefits                                                        The Book of Discipline of The UMC – 2016 mandates the existence of this committee when two or more conferences are uniting. This team has been meeting for over two years in preparation for the smooth transition to a single comprehensive benefits plan for the Michigan Conference. The nine points of their motion establish the parameters around which this change will take place. Additional details are provided in the rationale and will be outlined during Annual Conference on the strategic and attentive ways in which affordability, sustainability and compassion find a workable financial and benefits balance.
  • Combined Policies and Guidelines Motion                                                                                     This action will allow the conference to approve five polices that continue unchanged, or with slight modifications developed by collaborative teams.
  • Human Resources Policy                                                                                                                  The net increase when combining two conference staff results in meeting a new legal compliance threshold. The Area Personnel Committee, in consultation with conference chancellors, and persons with HR expertise, developed a new policy to meet these legal requirements. This single policy reflects material from several existing HR policies in the Michigan Area. Future implementation, interpretation and maintenance updates of the policy will be managed by a single entity, the Human Resources Committee.
  • Parsonage Guidelines & Flexible Housing Policy                                                                           These two documents underwent a comprehensive review and revision in 2009 in the Michigan Area. These new documents are updated with The Book of Discipline of The UMC – 2016 paragraphs and quotes.
  • Covenant of Clergy Sexual Ethics and Guidelines for Our Life Together                                     Previously developed by an Area Board of Ordained Ministry, Cabinet, Episcopal Office and at-large member task force, the covenant and guidelines have functioned well. The documents now reflect The Book of Discipline of The UMC – 2016 language.
  • Policy for the Protection of Children, Youth, and Vulnerable Adults                                            Another collaborative Area task force reviewed the two conferences existing protection policies. The new policy was written with many of the same valuable components included and has been extensively reviewed by the Conference Chancellors for the necessary legal implications and protections.
  • Extension Loan Funds                                                                                                                        Items #13 and 14 address the funds that three separate legal entities administer on behalf of the Conferences. These two action items put in motion a process for the consolidated administration of these funds and the direct allocation of some funds for particular development as determined by designated oversight bodies. Please read the rationale of these two motions for further details.
  • Nominations                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Once the Michigan Conference structure is approved to effectively start on July 1, 2018, the Area Committee on Nominations, outlined in the motion, will develop a slate of nominations to present to the 2018 Annual Conference for approval.

All of these details and steps in a process will eventually have their own final conclusion as the Annual Conference gathers and takes action upon them.

None of these details, steps or actions need to distract us from the core Christian elements our beloved Teacher reminded us were the “basics.”  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  And love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

Looking forward to seeing you at the Grand Traverse Convention Center in Acme in 3 weeks!

For a pdf of this document, click here.

“If you make my Word your home, you will indeed be my disciples.  You will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:13 New Jerusalem Bible.)”  Each article I write for this column is based in the guidance of a particular Scripture passage. I pray that these reflections, stories and information will assist you in your own witness and service as a Disciple of Jesus Christ



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