On Saturday afternoon the Michigan Annual Conference celebrated some of the people who have kept the song alive through good times and hard times.
Senior Content Editor
June 5, 2021 | LANSING — In a year when COVID-19 kept people apart from their family, friends, and church, members of the 2021 Michigan Annual Conference were just glad to get together again, even if online.
They took special joy in celebrating what the people of God can do when they put their faith to work during a pandemic. Clergy milestones were recognized. Honors — the Harry Denman Award, the John Buxton Award, and One Matters Award — were bestowed.
Conference Preacher Cynthia Wilson said, “I came to Michigan because you have a rich history of song.” These are some of the folks who have kept us singing.
The Harry Denman Evangelism Award | the Rev. Eric Mulanda
The Rev. Dirk Elliott, Michigan Conference Director of Congregational Vibrancy, named the Rev. Eric Nduwa Mulanda the recipient of the 2021 Harry Denman Evangelism Award. “During this year, the worship attendance at Mount Hope UMC has increased by 9%,” Elliott reported. “The church celebrated 17 baptisms … took in 15 new members.” In addition, Mount Hope has started a virtual campus in Sarasota, FL, and a Thursday midnight prayer meeting utilizing Free Conference Call. “During the 11 months that Eric has been the lead pastor, he has visited 80% of his congregation,” Elliott said. “He goes to their homes and stands outside and talks to them through the window or screen door.” COVID-19 has clearly not slowed down Pastor Eric Mulanda’s evangelistic zeal or love for God’s people.
Mulanda responded, “Yes, indeed, it has been a tough year for all of us to serve God and God’s people during this pandemic. It was tough, but I have come to realize that the goodness of God and his presence has been with us always, as it says in Matthew 28:20. … His promise of being with us never said he would leave us during a pandemic.” The pastor offered “three keywords for sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ from anywhere to everywhere: Love, Prayer, and Faith.”
The John Buxton Award for Creative Leadership | the Rev. Benton Heisler
On Friday morning, June 4, the Rev. Don Emmert concluded his report as Director of Benefits and Human Resources by announcing the 2021 recipient of the annual John Buxton Award for Creative Leadership. Emmert said, “This year’s recipient is a 36-year clergy member of the annual conference. Having known this person for probably 15 of those years, I believe I am safe in describing his ministry as one of balance, deriving from a deep personal faith in Jesus Christ translated into a driving passion for Christian service.” He highlighted the person’s “ability to weigh the importance and often tension between the program and the administration, the innovative and the structural, the desired and the necessary.” Emmert praised the recipient for leadership during the time of transition to one conference. “As the first Director of Connectional Ministries, his voice in these formative conversations and hands-on responsiveness to the resulting tasks was an important contribution to the birth of the new conference. It is that leadership we affirm today,” Emmert concluded.
In accepting the honor, Benton Heisler said, “I give praise to God that He was willing to trust me with the gifts and opportunities He provided so that in some small way the Gospel of Jesus Christ could be proclaimed and lives could be changed.” Heisler then added, “My personal mantra has always been, ‘Never do ministry alone.'” He named colleagues who gave him “generous support and unwavering commitment as we served together.” Heisler gave special thanks to the laity. “It has been a steady presence of the laity in my life, who have truly made the difference, and without whom, the Church would struggle mightily.”
One Matters Award | Washington Heights United Methodist Church
Discipleship Ministries invites every annual conference to nominate a church to receive the One Matters Award. Nominees excel at making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, explains the Rev. Gary Step, Michigan Conference Associate Director of Congregational Vibrancy. Monique French has pastored Washington Heights UMC in Battle Creek since July 2020. “Appointed during the pandemic, she hit the ground running, casting vision and creating hope for the future,” Step said, as he announced the award on Saturday morning. “Her work has already led to four new professions of faith.”
Pastor French said the congregation’s motto is, “Uplifting people through the dignity of discovered purpose — one life, one community, one city at a time.” Further, she described the mission of Washington Heights UMC as “to create pathways to discover and fulfill one’s life purpose and provide kingdom-building opportunities through community involvement.” The church has been very active during the pandemic. “We have truly been a hub of hope,” French said. They have addressed hunger, providing 300 families food each week. In addition, volunteers distributed PPE to neighbors and hosted a micro vaccination clinic in partnership with the Calhoun County Health Department. “We believe we exist not just for ourselves but as an extension of hope rooted in love for the people in the community,” she concluded.
Celebrating the sacred journey of clergy
On Saturday afternoon, the Rev. Barry Petrucci, Chair of the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, introduced those approved in the Clergy Session in 2020 for Provisional Membership and Commissioning as Deacons and Elders. He also named those approved last year for full membership and ordination. (See listing.) He added, “Thanks to all of these people for patience and understanding in being received in 2020, but not having the service of commissioning and ordination until this year. We honor your call, and we honor your adaptability!”
The Rev. Dr. Jennifer Browne, Director of Clergy Excellence for the conference and soon-to-be Clergy Assistant to the Bishop, presented the 2021 candidates for clergy membership. (See listing.) Browne remarked, “The new Provisional and Full Members of the Class of 2021 were the first — and we hope the last — to go through the candidacy and interview process completely online.”
Petrucci introduced the 2020 and 2021 graduates of the Course of Study. (See listing.)
The Historic Questions, posed by the bishop to clergy candidates since the days of John Wesley, were asked virtually for the first time in The Michigan Conference. “What makes these questions special,” the bishop said, “is their longevity and their deeper intent. In responding to these questions, ordinands willingly link themselves to the stream of the Christian tradition that began with John and Charles Wesley and includes Philip Otterbein, Martin Boehm, and Jacob Albright. The deep intent of these questions is to affirm faith, the faith rooted in our baptism, and in following that faith in Jesus Christ, each of these persons has said, ‘yes’ to ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church.”
The Rev. Chris Lane, Chair of the Order of Elders, joined Browne on stage to read the names of those who retired from ordained and licensed ministry in 2020 and 2021. There were 77 names read. (See listing.) Lane offered a blessing. “To the good and faithful servant leaders of The Michigan Conference: may God bless you in all that is ahead and continue to present you with joyful opportunities to live out your calling as ministers and Christians.” Information and statements about the retirees may be found on the Annual Conference website.
On Saturday morning, Conference Preacher/Teacher Cynthia Wilson told the conference, “I hope you sing until the power of the Holy Spirit comes down. How are you singing? You cannot let trouble interrupt your prayers!” The Michigan Annual Conference members are grateful for the lives of these Elders, Deacons, and Local Pastors who have risen above trouble and who pray without ceasing.