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AC 2019 is ‘greenhouse for leadership’

Persons holding placards during opening worship

The Michigan Annual Conference celebrated Bold and Effective Leadership, and now moves forward — with wisdom, courage, and heart — for mission and ministry in a changing world.

KAY DEMOSS
Senior Content Editor

ACME, Mich. (MIC) – The Michigan Annual Conference, under the leadership of Bishop David A. Bard, took place May 30 – June 2, 2019, at the Grand Traverse Resort here.

Three years of preparation brought Michigan United Methodists to this place – the first ever Annual Conference session as one body in Michigan. New districts and a new staff model began in July 2018. The Detroit and West Michigan conference generations of faith officially transitioned on December 31, 2018.

However, the “liminal (in between) season” talked about in June of 2017 by then conference teacher, Susan Beaumont, stretches on as the future of The United Methodist Church is now uncertain. The shadow of a possible split in the denomination shaped both the agenda and the tone of the gathering, situated as this Michigan Annual Conference was just months between two landmark sessions of The General Conference.

Nevertheless, when God’s people come together in the name of Jesus Christ and John Wesley, it’s an occasion for worship, celebration, learning, fellowship, and decision-making. In that regard, this Michigan Annual Conference was like all those that came before over 50 years of making disciples and transforming the world as a United Methodist Church.

Planting seeds

Conference preachers and teachers all explored the question of what it means to be faithful in turbulent times. The theme for the 2019 Annual Conference was Bold and Effective Leaders: Wisdom, Courage, Heart.

On Thursday, May 30, Bishop David Bard exclaimed, “If I only had a brain!” then talked about WISDOM as a leadership focus. “This is something of what leadership of wisdom, heart, and courage looks like, and our church and world need this kind of leadership, our churches need to be greenhouses growing such leaders.” He described the nurture and equipping that needs to happen. “We need to be places that plant seeds that are skills necessary for such leadership – skills in listening well, skills to tolerate ambiguity and not knowing, skills that help people grow in their self-knowledge in light of knowing that they are loved by God, skills in working with difference and conflict, skills in reading and learning together.

Woman putting water on man's forehead
Members of the 2019 Michigan Annual Conference remembered their baptism during opening worship on May 30. Here Jeanette Harris offers a blessing to the Rev. Dirk Elliott. ~ mic photo/Jonathan Trites

Friday’s speakers – Laura Witkowski and Becca Farnum – reflected on the COURAGE it takes to be a leader. Witkowski offered examples of leadership – a US-2 working in Detroit, wives of city workers in Memphis in 1968, and the disciple Peter. “The water is where Jesus is; the water is a task too big for us to do alone. Be ridiculous like Peter. Be more like Jesus,” Laura urged. “Find your ordinary courage. Get out of the boat.”

Farnum, returning to her home conference said, “I’ve seen this courage at work in Michigan. I am a product of the leadership greenhouse Bishop Bard preached on yesterday … I am forever blessed by the skill-set I developed because of opportunities afforded to me by the United Methodist Church.” She then added a challenge, “I was an easy plant … But to truly live up your potential for youth empowerment, for world change, for discipleship, for developing leaders, it is not the Beccas of the world you need to be investing in … If you want to grow courageous leaders, you must adapt to the plant and give it what it needs.”

The Rev. Dr. Jennie Browne and Kristen Grauer, on Saturday, spoke about HEART as a characteristic that leaders must have. Browne, with children at her feet, retold the story of Esther and her uncle, Mordecai, an account of the Jewish people living under constant threat. She addressed the question, “What was a nice girl like her doing in a place like that?” then turned to the thought in the minds of conference members, “What’s a nice person like me doing in a place like this?” Browne spoke of ways that Esther and Michigan’s United Methodists have what it takes to lead and closed with, “Maybe God has called you to this place for just such a moment as this.”

A second PK (Preacher’s Kid), Kristen Grauer, described how her life in parsonages across Michigan prepared her for life on the world stage. Speaking as the daughter of the Rev. Charles and Pat Grauer, and not as a foreign service officer of the U.S. Department of State, Grauer recalled happy times, “I made bags of gumballs and gave them to my friends and told them to ‘Chew this in remembrance of me.’” She remembered learning parliamentary procedure at Youth Assembly at Lake Louise, a skill that now serves her well. Grauer closed her remarks with, “ Six reasons why being a PK in small-town Michigan gave me skills to succeed anywhere on earth.” She concluded, “You, the church, taught me this. Commit to a cause bigger than yourself. Find your moral compass. Care for others. Challenge convention. In other words, ‘Let your little light shine.’”

Kristen Grauer teaching at Annual Conference 2019
Kristen Grauer, child of a Michigan parsonage, told her listeners that growing up as a PK (Preacher’s Kid) “was not all rainbows and unicorns” but “there were wonderful moments, too … that built resiliency essential in my current lifestyle.” ~ mic photo/Jonathan Trites

During Sunday, June 2nd’s Service of Recognition, Commissioning, and Ordination, Bishop Bard took listeners back on the yellow brick road of leadership. Encouraging those present, especially those being ordained, to be leaders with wisdom, courage, and heart, Bard acknowledged, “The United Methodist Church is different just since the February General Conference. This 50-year iteration of the Christian Church in the Wesleyan tradition may be coming to an end, or at the very least is on the verge of significant change.” Then he added perspective, “It will not be the first time the broader Methodist movement has morphed into something new, but we are not sure just what this will look like or how we are going to get there. We have no yellow brick road and no good witch, Glenda.”

For more detail and full transcripts of these messages read AC members learn lessons in leadership.

Relating globally

All five speakers at AC 2019 asserted that leadership faces outward as well as inward. An Ingathering at Opening Worship took in $41,180. Gifts were divided among three important Michigan ministries: $18,439 for Grace Children’s Hospital as designated by the Haiti Covenant Partners; $18,649 for the Bishop Judith Craig Children’s Village as designated by the Liberia Covenant Partners; and $4,091 for the Michigan Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund. A pre-conference 5-K Event earned an additional $1,980 for the Disaster Fund.

Family wins 5k run
An award-winning family! Ryan Edwardson (overall men’s winner), Elise Low Edwardson (one of the 2nd place winners in women’s division), and their six-week-old son, Elliott (first place/youth 12) all participated in the 5-K event benefiting Disaster Recovery and Relief. Ryan pastors Escanaba: First UMC and Elise serves Escanaba: Central UMC. ~ photo courtesy Board of Pension and Health Benefits

A celebration of international relationship took place in the Service of Recognition, Commissioning, and Ordination on Sunday, June 2nd. Bishop Samuel Quire, leader of The Liberia Conference, asked Bishop David Bard to ordain, the Rev. Lucinda Eastman. It was a joyous moment.

George Howard, a representative of the General Board of Global Ministries, was on hand Saturday evening to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Methodist mission. Howard shared a report of 2018 giving to The Advance. Once again, The Michigan Conference excelled in the areas of Disaster Response $564,704 and Missionary Support $273,320. The Rev. Paul Perez was on stage promoting EngageMI, a program that challenges Michigan Conference congregations to comprehensive missional learning, giving and action. A new EngageMI handbook was distributed.

The Ministerial Education Fund received $7,378 in gifts given during the Service of Recognition, Commissioning, and Ordination. The fund prepares men and women for effective ministry through scholarships, support for Course of Study, funding of seminaries and more.

Taking action

Legislative Committees did their work on Friday evening and did it efficiently. On Saturday morning, Diane Brown, who guides the Annual Conference in its legislative work, announced: “There has never been a Consent Calendar like this! Ten of our 11 resolutions are eligible for the Consent Calendar.” The “Consent Calendar” includes those items that receive overwhelming (90%) support in the Legislative Committee. The following were passed on the Consent Calendar without discussion or vote in the plenary.

Voting with yellow cards raised in the air2019
Electronic voting was introduced at the 2019 Michigan Annual Conference but sometimes the will of the body needed to be discerned the old-fashioned way, with hands in the air. ~ mic photo/Jonathan Trites

The 2019 Michigan Annual Conference 

  • Supported legislation lifting a ban on professional and trade licensing for parolees;
  • increased handicap accessibility in churches and parsonages;
  • approved the development of a new Covenant of Ministry and Working Understanding between the Michigan and Liberia conferences;
  • pledged support for Michigan Area United Methodist Camping with prayer, volunteer service, promotion, and financial gifts;
  • called for immediate reuniting of families separated at the US-Mexico border;
  • established an Older Adult Ministries Team on the Board of Congregational Life.
Two young adults present resolution on inclusion
Two young adults who served as delegates to the 2019 General Conference — Alex Plum and Megan Walther — present a resolution to the 2019 Michigan Annual Conference regarding aspirations toward inclusion of LGBTQIA persons. ~ mic photo/Jonathan Trites

On legislation related to General Conference, Annual Conference members

  • GCP 2019-1: Voted to send a petition to the 2020 General Conference voicing Michigan Conference support to change Par. 2702.1 in the Book of Discipline to add domestic violence to the list of chargeable offenses;
  • GCP 2019-4: Voted to send a petition to the 2020 General Conference voicing Michigan Conference support for the Creation of a Central Conference in North America (Par. 28 of the Book of Discipline);
  • GCR 2019-2: Responded to uncertainty after the 2019 General Conference, by approving an aspirational statement “to live into an expression of Methodism that includes LGBTQIA people in full life and membership of the United Methodist Church.” Bishop Bard was asked to issue a declaratory decision on this resolution; he will do so within 30 days.
  • GCR 2019-3: Took a straw poll for the benefit of the bishop and conference leaders seeking to discern the future of The Michigan Conference. 69% of Annual Conference members favored “a United Methodist Conference whose policies allow for but do not require clergy to officiate at same-gender weddings, allow for consideration for ordained ministry of persons regardless of sexual orientation, and in which appointments are made with consideration given to the full range of contextual realities.”  31% of Annual Conference members favored instead “a United Methodist Conference whose policies include the current Book of Discipline language on ‘homosexuality,’ same-gender marriage and LGBTQIA+ ordination along with enhanced enforcement of those policies determined constitutional by the Judicial Council.”  

For additional details on decisions related to General Conference, please see AC 2019 signals greater inclusion.

Looking ahead

Conference members came together in the space between the 2019 General Conference last February and 2020 General Conference next May. During the course of the 2019 Annual Conference, Bishop Bard made comments addressing that context. Some of his remarks were made during the legislative process. Following the taking of the aspirational vote (GCR 2019-2) the bishop asked all members to help in the careful interpretation of Annual Conference actions: “We will leave from this place some disappointed, some pleased, many bruised, many experiencing moments of delight and grace. To the best of your ability, you will help lead your churches to witnessing for the grace of God in Jesus Christ. It will be so in the power of God’s spirit.” After the results of the straw poll (GCR 2019-3) were announced, Bard stated, “It does matter how this poll is interpreted. This is a vote of the people gathered, lay and clergy, in this particular place in this particular time.” The Bishop acknowledged the pain and difficulty of taking the poll and the importance of caring for everyone’s feelings saying, “Jesus of the parables cares as much about the 30% as the 70%. I encourage us to continue to do this hard work.” 

Bishop Bard preaching on May 30
Bishop Bard preached at both the opening and the closing of the 2019 Michigan Annual Conference. Both sermons drew on themes from the Wizard of Oz to describe the extraordinary need for leadership in today’s church and world. ~ mic photo/Jonathan Trites

The bishop addressed the current state of the church in his preaching. On Thursday, May 30, he reported, “General Conference 2019 did not find a way forward for The United Methodist Church but instead revealed even more starkly the depth of our differences. If some space is not created within Methodism we will continue to be swept up in an increasingly intense cycle of action and reaction.” He then, with sadness, said to the newly-born Michigan Conference, “Part of the reality we are facing, friends, is that we may not be together long. I may be the first and the last bishop of the Michigan Conference of The United Methodist Church.” Bard then assured the Annual Conference of the strength of his commitment in the present. “Yet we are together, here, now. I am the bishop for all Michigan United Methodists, here, now, and I remain deeply committed to this ministry, committed to engaging in this ministry with all the wisdom, heart, and courage I can muster by the grace of God.”

In the June 2nd message shared during the Service of Recognition, Commissioning, and Ordination, Bard again addressed the unsettled nature of the moment. “There will be a Methodism that fully welcomes and includes LGBTQ persons, celebrates their relationships, and offers the opportunity to be considered for commissioning, licensing and ordination. There will remain a Methodism that retains traditional positions.” The bishop acknowledged the uncertainty — “How the two will relate, or how many movements forward there will be, I don’t know” – and concluded with trust –” I hope we might find a way into the future [through the power of God’s love] rather than like a tornado sweeping through.” He again encouraged his listeners to a leadership style characterized by wisdom, courage, and heart.

Find Bishop Bard’s post-conference thoughts in his most recent blog, “Unfinished business from AC 2019.

Electing delegates

Members elected a delegation of 20 persons to participate in setting the course for the future of The United Methodist Church at the 2020 General and Jurisdictional conferences.

The first election took place on the first ballot on Thursday morning; the last ballot results were read on Saturday at 7:45 pm. Delegates, in order of election, are:

          General Conference Laity: Laura Witkowski, Diane Brown, Jennifer Peters, Nichea Ver Veer Guy
          General Conference Clergy: Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, Paul Perez, Joy Barrett, Megan Walther
          
          Jurisdictional Conference Laity: Ruby Anderson, Hoon-Yung Hopgood, Ruth Sutton, Lisa Hahn
          Jurisdictional Conference Clergy: Charles Boayue, Joel Fitzgerald, Christina Wright, Brad Bartelmay

          Jurisdictional Conference Lay Alternates: Brenda DuPree and Gordon Grigg III
          Jurisdictional Conference Clergy Alternates: Sherri Swanson and Matt Weiler

The 2020 delegation is the first to be elected by the new Michigan Conference. Laura Witkowski and the Rev. Kennetha Bigham Tsai will serve as co-chairs. The delegation is a diverse group regarding gender, race, and age. There was an intentional effort to elect young leaders. Eight delegates (40% of the full delegation) are under 40 years of age: Lisa Hahn (16); Gordon Grimm III (21); Rev. Megan Walther (32); Rev. Joel Fitzgerald (34); Rev. Paul Perez (37); Rev. Matt Weiler (37); Rev. Christina Wright (38); and Laura Witkowski (39). Read more and see a photo of the delegation at Michigan elects a diverse delegation.

Diana and Duane Miller learn about their voting devices
Conference members used electronic voting for the first time in the history of The Michigan Conference. Diana and Duane Miller learn about their voting devices before balloting began on Thursday. ~ mic photo/Jonathan Trites

Counting blessings

Go to “AC members learn lessons in leadership” and “Celebrating the power in God’s people” to read much more about the family of God in The Michigan Conference.

Here are some numbers that also tell the story. Conference Statistician Ron Iris shares the reminder that the 2018 statistics still reflect the two annual conferences; 2019 will be combined.

Michigan Conference
Number attending the 2019 Annual Conference 1,960
Number of clergy retiring: 33        
Number of Deacons ordained: 2 — Number of Deacons commissioned: 2
Number of Elders ordained: 6 — Number of Elders commissioned: 9
Received into Associate Membership: 2
2020 Budget $14,700,910 ($124,723 less than 2019)
88 cents of every dollar remains in the Annual Conference

Detroit Conference
Membership stands at 73,047, down 2,138 from the previous year.
Worship AVERAGE attendance stands at 32,806, down  1,622  from 2017.
Church school AVERAGE attendance stands at 8,991, up 356  from 2017.
Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2018  – 1,511, down 125  from 2017.
Adults and young adults in small groups for 2018  – 17,805, down 1,208 from 2017.
Worshipers engaged in mission for 2018  – 21,542, down 1,532 from 2017.

West Michigan Conference
Membership stands at 49,654, down 2,051 from the previous year.
Worship AVERAGE attendance stands at 28,367, down 1,910  from 2017.
Church school AVERAGE attendance stands at 9,249, up 2,081 from 2017.
Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2018 – 987, down 119 From 2017.
Adults and young adults in small groups for 2018 – 14,950, up 276 from 2017.
Worshipers engaged in mission for 2018  – 14,910, down 270 from 2017.

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