Delivered in worship by Elizabeth Whiting on August 15, 2021.
Note from Elizabeth: During worship, when I shared this report, I became choked up at the part where I say: “And, last but not least, I just want to share a moment about what it means to be a connectional church and to be a part of a global denomination. I fear that as we talk about division that we will lose how meaningful it is to be connected!” I did not expect this to happen. When I was preparing at home, that didn’t happen and I delivered this line with enthusiasm. In worship, looking out at all of your faces, standing so near the altar of God and coming with it in my heart to leave my burdens with Him, it just hit me different. Reflecting on what happened to make me so choked up this afternoon, it occurs to me that it was the naming of my fear there in our sanctuary that made me feel that way. Overcome with emotion. With sadness, with fear and trepidation, with an uneasiness I still struggle to name. I am afraid of our division. I am afraid of losing meaningful connections. We’ve already seen some from our congregation leave over issues of human sexuality and I fear more of that division. In addition to our denominational divisions, I fear the division over politics happening here in our country and how that also wounds the body of Christ. I am sad and afraid that we seem to be losing sight of the important ties that bind us together. It seems that we are living in a time of deep division and I am trusting God to help us heal those wounds. I have no answers, but I want you to know that my heart is saying that naming these fears and facing them head on, knowing that God is walking through this tumultuous time with us is at least a step in the right direction. And, it’s the only step I can think to take at this time where we have more questions than answers. I care deeply for each of you and for our congregation and I pray daily that through this time of division we might focus on what binds us together and remember that we are more alike than we are unalike. I look forward to our congregation continuing to have hard conversations about this topic this fall in the sessions that SPRC is planning along with Pastor Cathi. I hope that all people from the church will attend some of the sessions and listen and share and name our fears together and share them with one another and with God. Thank you for your patience and grace. And, now on to my report.
From June 3 to June 6, 2021, Nonie Lemmon, Pastor Cathi and I attended the Virtual Michigan Annual Conference and traveled through a strange land toward a new day singing songs of joy, peace, justice, courage, and hope. It is interesting to think that in the time we have been a combined “Michigan” Annual Conference we’ve held more of our sessions virtually than in person!
What does Virtual Annual Conference look like? Well, it looks like many of the Zoom meetings that you’ve likely attended over the last 18 months. We connect virtually and worship online and even this year held legislative committees in zoom rooms. The plenary sessions were held completely online as well with voting happening online, a reminder that plenary is the fancy name for the meeting of all delegates to annual conference including laity and clergy. Everyone with a vote is included in the “plenary”. The same worship space was used for most of the sessions, but during one morning worship, we travelled virtually to Greensky Hills UMC and that was really interesting!
The worship and teaching times were well done with aspirational messages about what it could look like to Sing the Lord’s Song in this strange land we are living in! We looked to the Psalmists to help teach us about what it takes to sing the Lord’s Song, both lament and celebration.
In addition to worship and teaching though, we also had business to attend to. There were all of the normal reports from Finance, Trustees, Nominations, Conference Leadership, Lay Leadership and our delegation to General Conference.
Bishop Bard shared in opening worship that Division in our denomination is not a matter of if any longer, but a matter of when. The Global Methodist Church and Liberation Methodist Church are forming and the United Methodist Church will face division in the years to come. There is sadness in this, but there is also a hope that the Holy Spirit will move among us and do a new thing. We need to be in prayer over this division and over our denomination. I pray that we will see the path the Lord wants us to take and that whatever path we follow, we see in it the sacred worth of every human being and that we shape our lives in a way that reflects God’s love into the world.
We’ve continued to see a decline in remittance of ministry shares of 13% year over year. Part of our work was to pass a budget which is a decrease of 4% for working budget with no increases in salary for superintendents or staff. We also passed several items related to Pensions and Benefits. One item that may affect our church in the future was a resolution about parsonage guidelines. The Cabinet and Board of Ordained Ministry are to recommend outgoing pastors be given at least the last 2 weeks (including 2 Sundays) off from all pastoral responsibilities to help them enter new appointments rested.
I know our church is interested in camping. One of our legislative items involved transferring funds from a conference account dedicated to Camping to the United Methodist Foundation for the Camping board. This basically represents a transfer of funds held by the previous Detroit conference specifically for camping to the Michigan Area Board of Camping’s account at the United Methodist Foundation. That resolution passed with 95% approval. I continue to lament the closing of camps and of course in light of a pandemic, the camping season was challenging this year. It is my fervent prayer that there will be a revitalization of camping ministry in the future. The Camping board does have some unique offerings including bringing a camp experience to individual congregations and perhaps we could look into that for our own community next summer. Another resolution that impacts youth and children ministry is an amendment to the conference protection policy which now includes a 16 point section covering online or virtual ministry.
We also heard from the Anti Bias, Anti Racism working group and also passed 3 resolutions related to those efforts. One resolution just affirms this group which was formed by Bishop Bard. Another directs the Board of Ordained Ministry and cabinet to create and implement training and support for clergy and congregations with cross racial and cross cultural appointments. The third requires Anti Bias and Anti Racism training for active clergy, conference and district staff. Presenter April Gutierrez noted, “The ABAR Working Groups hopes that we will create space for us to develop common language around race and the understanding of anti-bias … to help communities be more inclusive with a better understanding of cultures different from one’s own identity.”
Two other resolutions passed after rigorous debate and discussion. The first is a resolution on the Inclusiveness of the Michigan Conference.
This resolution added to the Conference Plan of Organization a new section concluding with this statement: Nor shall any lay or clergy member be denied access to an equal place in the life, worship, ministry, governance of the conference, local church, or other organizational unit of the conference because of race, color, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, relationship, ability, national origin, status, or economic condition. There was much debate with passion on both sides. Some felt “the time is now.” Others called for, “patience until things are more clear after General Conference.” Some said a vote postponing the resolution would promote unity in the conference. Others asserted that passing the resolution was a statement of identity, a clear articulation of the vision the Michigan Conference has for life together now and in the future.
A motion to postpone the vote indefinitely was defeated. No further amendments were offered. The resolution passed with approval of 68%.
Bishop Bard announced that a request for a ruling of law was made on this resolution. He explained a bishop has 30 days to issue such a ruling, which then is sent on to the Judicial Council for review. Bishop Bard found in his ruling that this resolution stands approved by the Michigan Conference and can become part of our plan of organization. Click this link to read his entire ruling.
The 2nd resolution that passed after much debate was around overcoming Christian Nationalism. The original resolution was significantly amended and if you’d like to read the final passed version, click here and scroll to page 4 for the full text. Debate during plenary focused on the separation of church and state, appropriate expression of Christian principles and values in the life of the nation, righteous prayer, and the importance of public witness to the truth of the Gospel. The presenter closed with the statement: “Since we are Christ’s body, we are called to discern and witness to the truth. This is the truth that we can declare … the violent attack on Congress was neither patriotic nor Christ-like. True Christianity does not seek to control the country.” The resolution passed with approval of 75%.
All of the sessions, including worship and teaching times are available to view at 2021.michiganumc.org. I highly recommend you take some time and worship at Greensky Hills if you haven’t done so yet. It was my favorite worship time and I think you will be blessed by it. All of the worship and teaching times are worth your time to experience a bit of annual conference if you are interested. Our report and links to these worship times will be available at ClioBethany.org as well.
And, last but not least, I just want to share a moment about what it means to be a connectional church and to be a part of a global denomination. I fear that as we talk about division that we will lose how meaningful it is to be connected! One of the reasons why I am a United Methodist is because of the connections with our global church where we can do big things together that wouldn’t be possible for individual congregations. Bethany UMC has a long history of paying 100% of our apportionments and I am proud to be a part of a congregation that sees connection as our strength. Recently, it has come to my attention that we don’t talk enough about where our ministry shares (also called apportionments depending on who you talk to, these are the same thing!) go and what good they do in the world!
After generously supporting their local churches, United Methodists in Michigan will give more than $14 million dollars to mission and ministry across the denomination. These gifts are known as, “Ministry Shares,” in that we share some of the gifts God has blessed us with to supporting the work of the church in mission and ministry. These gifts provide vital support to a wide range of ministry and mission. 75% of our ministry shares stay within the Michigan conference. These funds go to support the Board of Ordained Ministry, Communications and many other boards and program related committees as well as offices and staff including things like new church starts, financial support of camping, grants for missional work and support for conference clergy with equitable compensation and moving expenses as well as funding district superintendents and staff. 25% of our ministry shares goes to General Church Apportionments and much of this goes to the World Service Fund. This is the essential core of our global outreach ministry, supporting Christian mission around the world as we live out the Gospel by providing clean water, food, medicine, education and hope to millions. I will share a document on our website showing how Michigan United Methodists have advised our gifts to be used to support mission and ministry.
We are a generous bunch here at Bethany who value our connection to the global denomination. I learned these values, right here in this church, attending Annual Conference for my first time with Pastor Badley way back in 1994 as a youth delegate. I remember walking around excitedly at my first annual conference picking up pamphlets about all of the amazing things the church was doing around the state and globe. With a virtual conference, I haven’t come away from Annual Conference 2021 with a bunch of paper pamphlets on global missions, but I have come away with a grateful heart. I’m thankful and blessed to be a part of a congregation who stewards our resources well and prioritizes our ministry shares. If you are interested in learning more about how these funds are used in our global connection, please reach out to me. I would love to talk about this.
This report will be included in the upcoming tower notes and posted on our website alongside links to other resources. If you have any questions or would like more information about any of this, I am so happy to talk about it with you. Thank you for trusting Nonie & I to do this work of Annual Conference on your behalf. I hope we represent you well and bring back useful information to keep us connected.
Report Submitted by Elizabeth Whiting – Lay Delegate to Annual Conference from Bethany UMC