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State of the Michigan Conference

Conference began at 10 am June 4

On Friday, June 4, members of the 2021 Michigan Annual Conference heard reports about benefits, finances, strategic plans, lay empowerment, trustee matters, and camp operations.

Senior Content Editor

June 4, 2021 | LANSING — Every Annual Conference session takes time to examine both the life of the church and how the church is active in the world. The Friday session of the 2021 Virtual Michigan Annual Conference was no exception.

Following worship with Greensky Hill United Methodist Church, Bishop David Bard provided conference members with the broader context for the session. “We find ourselves in a world changed by a pandemic. While the world has changed dramatically, there remain difficult realities which persist.” The bishop named hunger, war, inequity, inequality, and violence among those difficulties. “The human community is poisoned by systems and ways of thinking which lift some up ad put others down based on race, ethnicity, gender identity, group affiliation, sexual orientation, educational achievement, family background, and caste,” he continued.

Bard went on to address the current conflicts within the denomination. “General Conference has been postponed for a year Jurisdictional Conferences as well. In addition to serving as resident Bishop of the Michigan Conference, I am also serving as the interim bishop of the Minnesota Conference, an interim period which could be extended beyond 2021.”

Mentioning the Global Methodist Church and Liberation Methodist Connexion, Bard stated, “The United Methodist Church will experience a division. It is not a matter of ‘if’ but of ‘when.'” He added, “I remain deeply committed to working with all our churches and pastors with grace, compassion, wisdom, and kindness as we navigate these turbulent waters.”

The bishop called his statements “a strange way to begin an annual conference.” Then he urged members and viewers of the session to “stay tuned.” He elaborated. “Stay tuned.  That’s one way to express the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ – stay tuned. You think the forces of hatred and hunger are going to prevail? Stay tuned. You think there is no end to violence and no potential for healing? Stay tuned. You think a virus has left us all so weary and worn that we’ve no energy or vision left to be about the work of God’s beloved community? Stay tuned. You think that an institution that is on the decline, that cannot keep itself together, that seems terribly outdated and irrelevant to some cannot be a purveyor of grace, a beacon of hope, hands for healing, and an instrument of love?  Stay tuned.”

He ended his welcome to the Michigan Annual Conference on a note of celebration. “We live in strange times, and yet we are people of strangely warm hearts, strangely hopeful spirits who know that with God, strange things are happening every day – peaceful things, justice things, creative things, healing things, hopeful things, love things.  In the words of John Wesley, “the best of all is, God is with us.”

The full day that followed will be reported in two features. Here we feature summaries of administrative reports of various conference leaders, with links to the full reports for more detail. A second feature will highlight the activities of the day with an orientation toward justice and mission.

Board of Pension and Health Report | Rev. Don Emmert

Don Emmert, Conference Director of Pensions and Benefits
~ mic photo/Aaron Word

Rev. Don Emmert, Conference Director of Benefits and Human Resources and Interim Child Financial Officer for The Michigan Conference, reminded members that, in 2020, the Board of Pensions assumed over $1.8 million in expenses that would have been but that were not billed to the local church because of the six-month payment holiday for Benefits Ministry Shares. “Apparently, the holiday was so well received,” said Emmert, that some never wanted it to end as we concluded the year with $158,000 in outstanding balances. A payment of 91.25% … by far the lowest rate of receipts since I began keeping records in 2000.”

Emmert was pleased to report that conference health insurance premiums remained flat for2021. “There has not been a single increase in total premiums since the birth of The Michigan Conference in 2019, even as the board has continuously wrestled with increasing expenses.”

He mentioned two new programs — the Employee Assistance Program launched in October 2020 and the Omada Program to roll out June 2021 — both requiring enrollment in the Conference Group Health Care Plan. Omada is a digital care program designed to empower people to achieve their health goals through sustainable lifestyle change.

Details were given “about what happens to benefit plans [retirement and health] if a church or a clergy person chooses to withdraw from the denomination, either to become independent or to join another denomination or expression.”

Throughout, Emmert commented, “Things sure have changed since Fido as a pup.” He concluded, “One thing that hasn’t changed is the commitment of the Conference Board of Pension to introduce, manage, maintain, evaluate, and act in striving to achieve the best possible outcomes for all involved parties.” 

(Legislation related to Pensions and Benefits will be reported in the June 5 legislative round-up.)

Click here for the entire report.

Conference Council on Finance and Administration | Rev. Brad Bartelmay

Chair Michigan Conference CFA Brad Bartelmay
~ mic photo/Aaron Word

The Rev. Brad Bartelmay began his remarks with words of thanks to David Dobbs, who resigned as Treasurer and Director of Administrative Services in spring 2020. He also expressed appreciation to Don Emmert, who stepped into the position of Interim Chief Financial Officer for The Michigan Conference along with his other duties. The search for a new financial leader has resumed since the pandemic has receded.

Bartelmay reminded members of his concerns of a year ago for remittance of Ministry Shares. “I am pleased to report that as we progressed through 2020, Ministry Shares remittance steadily improved, and while at the close of 2020 we were still behind 2019, we closed the gap to 4%.” Bartelmay reported that 55% of churches paid in full last year. He added that a Paycheck Protection Program grant of $880,000 helped “successfully navigate 2020 … The fact that will not reoccur means that we must redouble our efforts to strengthen Ministry Share remittance.”

The decline, however, continues in 2021. “At the close of April, Ministry Shares remittances are 13% behind where they were in 2019.” Again, the pandemic and demographics were named as challenges. “The Michigan Conference is contracting by 3% to 5% a year regarding worship attendance. This inevitably has an impact.”

Measures being taken by CFA include 1) refined reporting so superintendents can follow up on underpayment; 2) an examination of the formula for calculating Ministry Shares; 3) working with conference leaders to “create a culture of excellence and excitement about the ministries we are doing in the connection;” 4) development of other revenue streams to support conference ministries with the establishment of a capital fund from the proceeds of closed churches.

Click here for the entire report.

The last order of business on Saturday afternoon was the approval of the 2022 Michigan Conference Budget. (Click here for detail.) Bartelmay highlighted key elements: 1) amount of the budget is $12, 009,984, a decrease of 4% from 2021; 2) Benefits budget is $3,720,000, same as 2021; 3) no salary or wage increases for superintendents or conference staff; 4) increase General Church apportionments are the result of a delay in General Conference. 

“We have entered into a time of ‘chasing the deficit’ by which I mean receipts to the conference decrease each year, primarily due to a decrease in Ministry Shares remittances, this, in turn, leads to decreasing budgets — it’s a vicious cycle,” Bartelmay explained. He then added, “We do have the power to break the cycle.” He asked lay members of the conference to return to their churches and inquire about Ministry Shares remittance. “If you are behind,” he said, “I encourage you to begin a dialogue on how to improve your rate of remittance.”

After listing a number of ways Ministry Shares make a difference, the CFA chair concluded, ” … shortly before her death in 1883 [Sojourner Truth] said the following, ‘I am not going to die, I’m going home like a shooting star.’ Friends, we need not follow this pattern of diminishment and death — let us covenant as we begin afresh, as our churches reopen, to shine like shooting stars in our commitment and connection to one another in ministry.”

Conference Leadership  | Darryl Totty

CLC leader advocates for Justice
~ mic screenshot

“Your prayers and support have been an essential component of our conference’s response to and recovery from COVID-19,” Darryl Totty said at the beginning of his report of the innovative work of the Conference Leadership Council. He then reviewed the main concepts of the plan for Strategic Direction of The Michigan Conference.

Totty first noted the missional and connectional challenges facing the conference. He then detailed four foci:

  1. Sharing God’s Love with Others: a renewed passion for personal faith formation and sharing
  2. Building the Beloved Community: intentional inclusion and the dismantling of systemic racism
  3. Development of Leaders: equipped to lead the conference in its new priorities
  4. Financial Sustainability: through redirection of financial resources.

A resolution is before the conference to explore the reduction of at least one district. In addition, a Strategic Staffing Group is looking at restructuring conference staffing around these strategic focus points.

The CLC leader shared why he intends to stay in The Michigan Conference. “Because of the diversity. The United Methodist Church is not perfect, but there is great value in connection.” He urged others to stay as well. 

Totty thanked Bishop Bard and the Anti-Bias/Anti-Racism Working Group for helping the conference “confront institutional racism and our racism in the community and the church.” He called the work “essential to our journey with Jesus. Racism is antithetical to the gospel.”

Click here for the entire report.

Nominations Report | Melissa Claxton

Melissa Claxton chair of conference nominations
~ mic photo/Aaron Word

Nominations Chair Melissa Claxton thanked all outgoing leaders and those who agreed to serve in the coming year. Claxton noted, “The work of the Committee of Nominations is always a challenge as we seek to not only find those who can offer the leadership skills that are needed to move our church’s mission of Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World forward but to ensure that we are placing those leaders in positions that align with their gifts, skills, and passions.” 

The report of the Committee on Nominations was approved by conference members. See the report here

Lay Leader Report | Annette Erbes – Sharon Appling – Jesse Robbins – Celia Peters

Conference Lay Leader Annette Erbes
~ mic photo/Aaron Word

A slide show in the opening moments of Lay Leader Annette Erbes’ report was “a sampling of some of the ways ministry has been lived out by the laity of our conference during this past year. On days when it was difficult to find one’s voice, let alone sing a joyful song, laity have continued to praise God by reaching out in love to and with their neighbors.”

Erbes challenged lay persons to “Claim our Call and Find our Voice, as spelled out in The Book of Discipline ¶127. She introduced two persons to share “Why I was called to lay leadership.” Sharon Appling said, “My faith journey was a winding road trip. Often, I asked, “Are we there yet?” She said, “Generosity became a road sign” during her growing up. As a 14-year-old, she was “adopted” by the Senior Missionary Society of Women. “Teaching God’s Word led to impactful mission, faith formation, discipleship, evangelical outreach, and lay servant training,” Appling shared. “I heard God’s call, not as clergy, but as certified lay ministry!”

Jesse Robbins reported that it was during a mission trip in high school “that I first felt God calling me to ministry.” Jesse has served for the past seven years as the youth coordinator at Stevensville UMC. “I can say with confidence that following my all has brought me joy,” he said. “Following your calling definitely requires some sacrifice. However, it continues to be the most rewarding work I have ever done.”

Annette Erbes summarized John Wesley’s Directions for Singing to encourage laity to sing the Lord’s song in the coming year. “Listen for God’s voice,” she began. “Discern a ministry which captures your passion. Find the main melody of purpose, ‘So that God’s love is both heard and experienced. Share the melody of your ministry with others: collaborate, brainstorm, share insights. And fine-tune your ministry.”

Celia Peters, a member of the Board of Laity, closed the report with a reciting of her original poem, “Questions … What is a call?”

Click here for the entire report.

Dean of the Cabinet Report | Rev. Dr. Jerome DeVine

2020-2021 Dean of Cabinet Jerome DeVine
~ mic photo/Aaron Word

Dean of the Cabinet, the Rev. Dr. Jerome Devine, extended deep appreciation for all the clergy across the Michigan connection “for the extravagant efforts you have put forth to lead in the midst of a historic pandemic.” He also thanked the conference staff for providing essential resources to local churches.

DeVine shared the insight of his cabinet colleague who said, “One of the remarkable things is that we have discovered so many jazz artists among us: those who were willing to step onstage for this wild jam session to mix it up and faithfully create.” The dean shared that one Mid-Michigan pastor remarked, “while he knew God did not cause the pandemic, he was very grateful that God used it to force the church into the 21st century.” He then listed some of the changes that “came to every aspect of our normal patterns in our local churches.”

“Many of our local churches, if not most, have been gifted with new wineskins over the past 14 months,” he continued. “Some eagerly welcomed these new wineskins. Some resisted considerably. DeVine then shared the parable from Luke 5:37-39 and cautioned, “We have been gifted with new wineskins, yet a key danger is that we are filling them with old wine.”

Speaking for the entire Cabinet, DeVine said, “There is a deep yearning within each of us and in us collectively that our churches not return to normal. Instead, we yearn to see our churches live into and claim a new kind of future.” He shared the remark of a fellow superintendent: “The driver in [some] places is to end up in the same place as they started so they can return to the same practices and programs that weren’t working even before the advent of COVID-19. In the end, even those churches who have improvised, adapted, and played on through the changes may embrace a return to a familiar, old refrain rather than choosing to sing a new song unto the Lord. If that happens, we’ve missed a tremendous opportunity.”

The dean ended his report inviting all “to choose to be the Church and churches of God’s design and not of our own familiarity and comfort.”

After the report, the Bishop “Set the Appointments.” Find the complete list of the 2021-2022 Appointments here. See the new appointments as listed on the Conference website.

Click here for the entire report.

Corporate Session of Board of Trustees | Jim LeBaron

Conference Trustee Chair Jim LaBaron
~ mic photo/Aaron Word

Trustee Chair Jim LeBaron began stating, “We have a growing inventory of held-properties (from closed churches), and their attendant oversight responsibilities presented a substantial challenge to the board.” He shared a list of 11 properties sold (one being donated) during the past year. Another five properties are currently listed for sale. He noted, “A challenging environment for commercial real estate and church properties, in particular, has arisen from the ‘COVID world.”

LeBaron reported that the Trustees are currently working on both interim and permanent archive sites. 

There was interaction between the Board of Trustees and Michigan Area United Methodist Camping over the past year. Three former camp properties were listed, and two sold. LeBaron introduced Stuart Smith, Chair of the MAUMC Board, for his report, found below.

Jerry DeVine joined Jim LeBaron for the Dowry and Legacy Reports. The “Dowry” provides $250,000 per district from proceeds of church sales. A report of how those funds were applied will be included in the Conference Journal and articles in upcoming editions of MIconnect. DeVine showed slides and told the stories of five chartered churches, and one church start recommended for closure at the 2021 Michigan Annual Conference. They are Arbela UMC, Freeport UMC, Griffith UMC, Mosaic UM New Church Start, Pleasant Lake UMC, and Wayne First UMC. After thanksgiving for their ministry and prayer, conference members voted to approve the closure of these churches.

Jim LeBaron presented the name of Duffield United Methodist Church as completing the disaffiliation process for withdrawal from the Michigan Conference of The United Methodist Church. Members voted to approve.

Click here for the entire report.

Camp Ministry Report | Stuart Smith and David Berkey

Stuart Smith made camp report to the conference
~ mic screenshot

Stuart Smith, Chair of the Board of Michigan Area United Methodist Camping, recorded his report to the 2021 Michigan Annual Conference from Wesley Woods Camp & Retreat near Dowling. He re-introduced the Strategic Plan reported at last year’s conference session. “Despite the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Board remains committed to this new Strategic Plan and is working on various aspects of it to ensure the organization will remain strong and viable in the post-COVID world,” Smith said.

Smith noted the sale of Judson Collins Center and Lakeview Campground. An offer to buy Crystal Springs from the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians has been accepted by the board to close this summer. Decommissioning services were held at Judson Collins and Lakeview, led by Bishop Bard. 

A Master Plan has been developed for Lake Huron Retreat Center, Lake Michigan Camp & Retreat, and Wesley Woods Camp & Retreat, identifying the key property and facility improvements needed at each location. Recent camp sales will cover some of the anticipated costs. See the full report for details of plans to renew and refresh the sites. 

David Berkey at Wesley Woods
David Berkey, new Executive Director of Michigan Area United Methodist Camping. ~ mic screenshot

Last fall, the board hired David Berkey as the new Executive Director. He came to Michigan from the California-Pacific Conference and has developed camping ministries across the U.S. 

David Berkey added highlights of camp programming. He began, “Pure Michigan is a wonderful place for people of all ages to be renewed by God’s creation outdoors, and our mission is to help Pure Methodists find more and more opportunities to grow in faith together.” He spoke of the importance of camping. “As the church undergoes radical change with the culture of the 21st century, COVID, and so many critical issues around mental health, racism, and the environment–now, more than ever, outdoor experiences in community with others are so important and needed.”

These operational changes were noted by the new director: 1) reduction of staff; 2) eliminated a central office location; 3) PPP loans covered payroll and fixed costs; 4) set aside funds from camp sales with the United Methodist Foundation. 

Berkey thanked the site directors’ hard work — Ann Emerson (Lake Huron), Nicole Holton (Wesley Woods), and Erik Bengston (Lake Michigan). He thanked Dana Hunt (Lake Michigan) and Cindy Haynes (Lakeview) for their years of leadership.

He asked for the laity and clergy of the Michigan Conference to enter a partnership with Michigan Camping in discipleship ministry. “We hope to be your go-to resource for everything from mid-winter retreats to summer kayak adventures.” He invited churches to 1) register for camp events; 2) book an event at a Michigan UM site; and 3) create a hybrid event resourced by MIUMC at a site of your choosing. Berkey reported that MIUMC is networking with Camp Michigamme, Bay Shore Camp, and Lake Louise Community Christian Camp “to be mutually supportive in expanding our outreach to all of Michigan.

The new director assured the conference that the three sites are reopening for a 2021 summer season to ReConnect, ReCreate, and ReNew. All measures are being taken to provide a safe and healthy environment. “But it will still be CAMP, and it’s back, better than ever!”

(Legislation related to camping will be reported in the June 5 Legislative Round Up.)

Click here for the entire report.

Last Updated on October 31, 2023

The Michigan Conference