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United at last

A promise made in 2015 was a promise kept at the 2018 Michigan Annual Conference.

Senior Editor-Writer, Michigan Conference

ACME, Michigan – (MIC) A half century of making disciples and transforming the world came home to the Grand Traverse Resort May 31-June 3, where the 2018 Michigan Annual Conference was in session.

Conference opened on Thursday morning with a video —Michigan Area History — narrated by the Rev. Marsha Woolley, co-chair of the Michigan Conference Design Team.

During their four days seated in Governor’s Hall, members of the Detroit and West Michigan conferences experienced transformation, not as a break from that legacy but with commitment to future faithfulness.

On “Count Day,” June 10, 2015, Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey announced the votes that committed to union of the two 47-year-old conferences. Three years later, on their golden anniversary, that union happened when Conference Lay Leaders John Wharton (Detroit) and Anne Soles (West Michigan) put their lighted tapers to the Unity Candle representing The Michigan Conference. Bishop David Bard blessed that union, “In friendships made, in ministry shared, the good done through the power of God’s grace in Jesus Christ continues to radiate.” And the people said, “As we are already one with Christ, we become one with each other and one in ministry to our state and world.”

The theme for the 2018 Annual Conference, ENGAGEwith, was lived out in times of worship, learning, decision-making, celebration, giving and dedication.

Engaging in celebration

It took two-and-a-half years of diligent work to bring the Conference to this moment. On Friday morning the Design Team was celebrated for work well done. Design Team co-chairs, the Rev. Marsha Woolley and the Rev. Dr. Glenn Wagner, offered comments. “Mr. Rogers said, ‘There has never been anybody in the whole world like my neighbor and there never will be,’ “Woolley began. “Is it too much of a stretch to say that he could have been talking to us?” Wagner thanked all those involved, “diligently combing customs, practices and creating new ones.”   Woolley continued, “In many ways your vote set us up for seeming chaos but all the moving parts have helped ready us for moving forward together; one voice and one vision for the people of Michigan.” Thanks were given all around to team members, bishops and the co-chairs. Conference members stood applauding appreciation.

A number of awards were conferred during conference. On Thursday morning Ruby Anderson, laywoman from the Detroit Annual Conference received the John Buxton Award for Leadership. “She has provided creative and dedicated leadership at all levels of the church,” said David Dobbs, Director of Administrative Services and Treasurer for The Michigan Conference. Gary Step was on stage Friday to present the One Matters Award to Southfield: Hope UMC. Senior Pastor Kevin Smalls said, “God has given us amazing results.” During Saturday’s “Celebrating the Journey of Ministry,” the Rev. Dean Prentiss honored the Rev. Sherri Swanson with the Lynn Grimes Spirit Award. “You were kind and good in helping us understand what we are doing and why we are doing it,” he said to Swanson, the outgoing chair of the West Michigan Board of Ordained Ministry. Prentiss also announced that the Rev. Arthur Spafford (Detroit) and the Rev Bernard Randolph (West Michigan) continue as holders of the Conference Canes. READ MORE about these honors.

Kudos to all who came early to participate in pre-conference events to benefit ministries on Michigan campuses and in Haiti. Bishop David Bard congratulates 5K winner Ryan Edwardson (Escanaba 1st UMC) as Don Gotham (r) cares for record-keeping. ~mic photo/Hannah Hazen

During the same ministry celebration on Saturday afternoon, 29 retirees were feted. READ MORE about their lives and ministries, pages 75-89 of the Conference Program Book.

The Corporate Session led by Conference Trustees on Friday morning celebrated the legacy of nine churches closed by action of the 2018 Annual Conference. Said Bishop’s Assistant John Boley: “We trust, that even in death and transition, the seeds these churches have planted will bear fruit for the kingdom of God.” They are: Dearborn Heights: Warren Valley; Melvindale: New Hope; Flint: Lincoln Park; Flint: Eastwood; Ruby; Laurium; West Mendon; Traverse City: Christ; and Vermontville.

On Saturday the Rev. Carl Gladstone, Michigan deacon and Discipleship Ministries’ North Central and Northeastern Jurisdiction staff for Young People’s Ministries, introduced Izzy Nowak. Izzy, a youth active at Pinconning UMC, and Ciere Turner, Detroit Renaissance District, will attend the Global Young People’s Convocation in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 18-22, 2018.

On Sunday Bishop David Bard said goodbye to superintendents who are leaving the Cabinet. READ MORE of his comments about the Revs Mark Spaw, Dale Miller, Kennetha Bigham-Tsai and Bill Haggard.

Engaging in worship

With a conference theme like ENGAGEwith, Luke’s account of the Good Samaritan was a natural choice for worship focus. Conference preachers – Bishop David Bard, the Rev. Ben Bower, and the Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai—reflected on various aspects of the parable.

From A Classic Love Story shared on Thursday morning: “Eternal life, love of God and neighbor, have something to do with being able to be moved by the hurt and pain of others, even others who are other.” (Bishop Bard).

From Who is my neighbor? shared on Friday morning: “Some folks try to take a pass on the grace of God, the invitation of the Holy Spirit, and the love of Jesus Christ, because we assume there’s a price for everything.” (Rev. Ben Bower)

From Go and do likewise! shared on Saturday morning: “I know that the day after the Special Session of the General Conference is over, the needs of the world will still be the same.” (Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai)

READ MORE including full texts of sermons.

Thursday and Saturday worship were blessed by the singing of the Conference Choir directed by Jeff Cobb of Traverse City: Central UMC. See page 24 of the Program Book for names of all other talented musicians enlivening worship at Annual Conference.~mic photo/Hannah Hazen

A worship highpoint in any annual conference is the Service of Ordination and Commissioning. On Sunday afternoon, June 3, Bishop Bard ordained three Deacons; ordained five Elders; commissioned nine persons for work of the Elder; recognized one person’s Elder’s ordination; and recognized seven persons completing Course of Study.

Before the holy moments with questions of examination and laying on of hands, Bishop David Bard shared a message focused on navigating the uncertainties of the present day: “Not just a job, an ADVENTure.” His map for the adventure of ministry was based on, “Canoeing the Mountains,” by Tod Bolsinger. “It’s all about adaptive leadership where mission needs to be the focus and leaders need to stay focused, stay calm, stay connected and stay the course.” The bishop stressed the importance of self-discovery, managing interpersonal relationships, theological growth, and resilience. “Here is some good news,” he concluded. “God shows up on the adventure. God calls AND God accompanies.” READ SERMON TEXT.

Engaging through learning

Annual Conference is a teaching time. Rather than import a guest teacher for the topic ENGAGEwith, this year’s educators came from ministry sites around The Michigan Conference. Nine TOM Talks were shared throughout Friday’s and Saturday’s sessions. The “Transformational Outreach and Ministry” presentations focused on the 2018 theme of engagement. “The Rev. Paul Perez, Associate Director of Mission and Ministry for the Michigan Conference, provided context for the TOM Talks: “We will hear from some of our own firebrands in Michigan. How they are putting Old Man Wesley’s advice into action.” The hope is we will catch a few of their sparks.” Perez continued. “In highly contentious and unsettled times are we a big hot mess? … John Wesley’s answer to spiritual malaise was missional.” Wesley’s advice to those in a “discipleship funk,” is to “be vulnerable with the vulnerable.” READ MORE and VIEW TOM Talks.

Rev. Eric Mulanda Nduwa was one of the TOM Talk speakers on Friday afternoon. Formerly of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eric is currently Associate Pastor of Lansing: Mt. Hope UMC. He proclaimed himself, “A reverse missionary.” ~mic photo/Hannah Hazen

A new model for mission engagement was introduced on Saturday evening at the 2018 Annual Conference. EngageMI officially begins January 1, 2019. Guidebooks were distributed to all members and a copy will be mailed to each church in the conference this summer. In addition to the printed guide there will be a website for EngageMI with up to date project lists and an online giving option. The Rev. Paul Perez, Associate Director for Ministry and Mission, the Rev. Don Gotham, outgoing Chair of Global Ministries for the Detroit Conference, and Brenda DuPree, incoming Chair of the Michigan Conference Board of Global Ministries stepped on stage to describe the model. They explained that EngageMI will not only continue the generous legacy of Spotlight Church and Six Lanes of The Advance but “take it to the next level.” Perez introduced 50 EngageMI ambassadors who have been trained to interpret and assist local churches in bold involvement with EngageMI. READ MORE.

Bishop David Bard took two opportunities to be in conversation around the work of the Commission on A Way Forward. On Friday afternoon, June 1st, he spoke personally about the Council of Bishops’ work of the past 18 months. ‘The Commission was formed by action of the 2016 General Conference “to do a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and to explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.” The Council of Bishops is now drafting specific legislation that will go to a special called session of General Conference to be held February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, MO.

“The conversations have been rich but heavy,” the bishop said. A video featured comments by bishops Ken Carter, Cynthia Fierro Harvey and Bruce Ough on the “One Church Model” being recommended by the Council. Bishop Bard added his observations. “The appeal of the model for me and many of the bishops, is that the model is relatively simple (requiring no constitutional changes), it holds together important values that have been articulated in this process (expanding United Methodist witness, recognizing different contexts of ministry, seeking as much unity as possible given our diversity), and it offers space in two senses – space for and space between.” He then offered conference members four things “you should do now.” READ MORE.

Bishop Bard also spent two hours after the 10:30 pm close of legislation on Saturday evening engaging interested persons in Question and Answer around the Commission on A Way Forward and the 2019 General Conference.

Engaging in decision-making

The 2018 Michigan Annual Conference made history in several areas, including legislation. Thousands of votes have been taken at the previous 49 sessions of the Detroit and West Michigan annual conferences. But it was a new moment on Thursday when yellow cards were held aloft in Governor’s Hall. No more color coding … orange circles and blue squares … to denote conference membership. All members, one yellow square. It was a visual and actual sign that The Michigan Conference has become one.

The 2018 Michigan Annual Conference made history when a yellow square was placed in the hands of every member present from both the Detroit and West Michigan conferences. Goodbye to orange circles and blue squares. Sacred geometry! ~mic photo/Hannah Hazen

The 28 resolutions that were before the body for decision-making were, as typically the case, split evenly between matters that govern life together as a church and matters that govern the church’s engagement with the world.

When the Conference agenda turned to legislation, it was an opportunity to act in accordance with John Wesley’s Rules of Discipleship … ordering conference, district, local church and relationships with the world in a spirit of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion.

READ MORE about all resolutions that came before the body for vote.

Engaging through giving

Giving to the mission and ministries of The Michigan Conference began even before the 2018 session was called to order. On Wednesday, May 30, golfers scrambled and runners, walkers and eliptiGO bikers completed the 5K course to benefit campers and college students.  The Rev. Ryan Edwardson (Escanaba 1st UMC) placed first in the 5K which raised over $2,500 for Haiti. The event was sponsored by  the Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits. The 4-person golf scramble raised $1,250 to support campus ministries. Award winners included: Rev. David Kim (longest drive); Rev. Ron Vanlente (closest to pin); and 1st place team—Jonathan Combs, Tony Schumaker, Todd Shafer and Ron Vanlente.

The Rev. Jack Amick (right) UMCOR’s Director of Sustainable Development, presents Advance Giving Awards to Jackie Euper and the Rev. Paul Perez for exceptional mission giving by The Detroit Conference. ~mic photo/Hannah Hazen

On Saturday the Rev. Jack Amick, UMCOR’s Director of Sustainable Development, presented three Advance Giving plaques to the Rev. Paul Perez, Associate Director of Ministry and Mission, and Jackie Euper, Detroit Conference Secretary of Global Ministries. They celebrated Detroit Conference’s standing in the top ten conferences in the denomination for support of missionaries, health initiatives, and international disaster relief. Amick said, “Because we are better together, I am sure there will be 2019 awards for The Michigan Annual Conference, a place that is committed to mission.”

Offerings were received at the 2018 Annual Conference. The Midwest Mission Distribution Center left the resort parking lot with a trailer full of relief supplies. Dollar donations were as follows:

  • $23,020 Haiti Hot Lunch
  • $22,280 Bishop Craig Children’s Village in Liberia
  • $4,934 Bishop Bard’s Emerging Needs Fund
  • $4,818 Ministerial Education Fund
  • $950 Quilt Auction for Safe Harbor in Traverse City

On Sunday morning Treasurer David Dobbs moved the adoption of a 2019 Michigan Conference budget totaling $14,825,633 which is $222,242 less than the 2018 budget. District Ministry Shares will be given to churches by their District Conferences. More can be learned regarding forms, formulas and other things financial at

Always generous, the members of The Michigan Annual Conference contributed a total of $55,051 to support seminary students, disaster victims, school children in Haiti, and orphans in Liberia. ~mic photo/Hannah Hazen

Other significant numbers from the 2017 Report of the Conference Statistician, the Rev. Ron Iris.

  • Detroit Conference: membership 75,351; worship attendance 34,432; church school attendance 8,615; professions or reaffirmations of faith 1,526; adults and young adults in small groups 19,005; worshippers engaged in mission 21,781
  • West Michigan Conference: membership 51,705; worship attendance 30,277; church school attendance 7,168; professions or reaffirmations of faith 965; adults and young adults in small groups 14,674; worshippers engaged in mission 14,594

Engaging with dedication

Again this year the Sunday morning Cabinet reports were brought to Conference members in the context of a worship service. A Cabinet Choir sang, “You are the Seed,” and the Revs Dale Miller (piano) and David Kim (solo) brought down the house with their rendition of, “To God be the Glory.”

The Rev. William Haggard, outgoing Dean of the Cabinet, was among those bringing the Word. His message compared the Detroit and West Michigan conferences in the 21st century to Judah and the prophet Jeremiah in the 7th century B.C. “Jeremiah believes just because Babylonians are at the door … doesn’t mean God isn’t to be found. He’s looking beyond the challenges with hope and aspiration. I think maybe that’s a little like starting a brand new Annual Conference.” He encouraged members to put TOM Talks into action then asked, “Will we do it?” He continued in a spirit of hope and challenge. “We will have to welcome change and imagine things we never imagined before. We will have to allow ourselves to dream and let God show us what the church could look like as we follow God into our communities in this constantly shifting culture. Here’s what I believe. We can do it. Do you believe that?” READ TEXT.

After thanking D.S.s finishing their terms, Bishop Bard introduced two Superintendents, who were then invited to share the Word. Rev. Dr. Margie Crawford (Midwest District) reflected on Pentecost and the difficulty of waiting. “We are a very diverse group but we are also children of God. That is our accord. God has each of us in his hands and we must be yielded and still for the next thing that is going to happen.”

The Rev. Dr. Jerome DeVine (Mid-Michigan District) visited imaginary waters of the Sea of Galilee. After recounting the story of Jesus walking on water he said: “Bishop, we have reached the new shoreline and moored our boats I give you this vintage oar. We are ready to step out of the boat with energy and urgency.”

The Rev. Dr. Jerome DeVine, Lansing (Mid-Michigan) Superintendent, rowed across the Sea of Galilee on Sunday morning with the encouragement of conference members. He gifted Bishop Bard with the vintage oar. ~mic photo/Hannah Hazen

All superintendents of Michigan’s nine new districts were then installed and dedicated to service. The ceremony ended with each receiving a baton and the admonition, “Let the race begin!” Appointments were acknowledged and the Rev. Dr. Charles Boayue was introduced as the new Dean of the Michigan Cabinet.

Signs of new life already emerging in The Michigan Conference were announced by the Rev. Dirk Elliott, Director of Congregational Vibrancy. “We are taking steps to start three new churches: Restoration UMC in Grand Rapids; Detroit: Midtown developing from Cass Community UMC; and Detroit: African Diaspora, a French-speaking congregation.” Leaders of those start-ups were called to the platform and blessed by Bishop Bard. Elliott invited members to attend the REACH Summit scheduled in East Lansing, Nov. 2-3, 2018. He announced a new REACH monthly podcast . Look for that and more at

Rev. Dirk Elliott (left) and Bishop David Bard (right) bless those leaders involved in starting new churches around the new Michigan Conference. L-r: Rev. Lindsey Hall, Associate pastor Birmingham: First UMC and spouse of the Rev. Jon Reynolds, Associate Cass Community UMC/Midtown Detroit; Rev. Banza Mukalay, Grand Rapids: Restoration UMC; and Revs John K. Ilunga Ngoi and Gertrude M. Mukalay, Detroit: African Diaspora UMC. ~mic photo/Hannah Hazen

Time of adjournment on Sunday morning continued in the spirit of covenant. “We are doing more than ending a meeting,” Bishop Bard said. With Lay Leaders lighting the Unity Candle, members of the 2018 Michigan Annual Conference responded on behalf of the state’s 127,000 United Methodists, “And as two become one, we will work and pray so that the light of God’s love shines even more brightly.”

The 2019 Michigan Annual Conference will be held at the Grand Traverse Resort May 30 – June 2, 2019.

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