Meeting under the theme “You Have the Power,” 1,701 lay and clergy members from 631 churches in the Baltimore-Washington Conference gathered at the 232nd annual session. The June 1-4 event at the Wardman Park Marriott Hotel in Washington, D.C., was a time of worship, fellowship and holy conferencing.
On the evening of June 3, and throughout the session, conference members bid farewell to Bishop Marcus Matthews, their episcopal leader, who is retiring after 42 years of ministry, all but eight of which were lived out in the Baltimore-Washington Conference.
Matthews was honored as a man of integrity, a leader with strong but gentle faith, a champion of prayer and learning, and a bishop of God by 10 other bishops and hundreds of friends and colleagues from throughout the church.
In an historic moment, the live streaming feeds from the Baltimore-Washington and Upper New York annual conferences were linked so that Bishop Mark Webb and others could deliver well wishes to Matthews. Matthews was the bishop who united four annual conferences and gaveled the new Upper New York Conference into existence in 2010.
In Baltimore-Washington, as an expression of their gratitude, members collected $300,001 in a love offering to break ground on a fitness center at Africa University in Zimbabwe in Matthews’ name. The bishop, who championed the creation of the pan-African, Methodist-affiliate university, currently serves as the interim chair of its Board of Directors.
In another significant action, the BWC clergy, meeting in executive session, voted not to approve Tara “T.C.” Morrow for commissioning as a Deacon in The United Methodist Church. Morrow is married to a woman.
Morrow’s candidacy was recommended by the conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry, which is one of four boards throughout the denomination that recently chose to not make the sexual practices of the candidates a determining factor in their decisions about ordination.
The denomination’s book of covenant, the Book of Discipline, says that, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”
Morrow narrowly missed the two-thirds margin needed to be commissioned. The result of this vote echoed throughout the conference sessions.
During the Ordination Service on June 4, some of the members of Morrow’s commissioning class left an empty space for her at the kneeler and a rainbow stole hung on the altar railing where she would have knelt.
During the plenary session June 2, members endorsed the Rev. Cynthia Moore-Koikoi, superintendent of the Baltimore-Metropolitan District, to be a candidate for the episcopacy. The election of two bishops will be held at the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference the week of July 10-15 in Lancaster, Pa.
A 24-member delegation, elected by last year’s Annual Conference, will represent the BWC there, reported the delegation chair Delores Martin. The Rev. TR Chattin and Tom Price serve on the NEJ Episcopacy Committee, which will determine, and announce on July 15, who will serve as the next bishop of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.
Martin also reported on highlights of the May General Conference session held in Portland, Ore. At this global gathering, the members established a study commission, led by the Council of Bishops, to explore the church’s stance on homosexuality. Delegates to General Conference also voted to begin the creation of a new, digital hymnal that can be personalized for each church; upheld guaranteed appointments for clergy; withdrew from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice; celebrated the raising of $75 million to help end deaths by malaria in sub-Saharan Africa; and set bold goals in the denomination’s four areas of focus: creating new places for new people, leadership development, working with the poor, and global health.
At the BWC Annual Conference Session, members also adopted a $14.2 million budget for 2017. The budget represents a decrease of 0.8 percent from 2016 and is the fifth consecutive year for this same level of spending.
In the stewardship report, the Rev. Ann Laprade, chair of the Conference Council on Finance and Administration, celebrated the outstanding giving by conference churches, which resulted in a 91.7 percent collection rate on apportionments in 2015. This has been the highest level of giving in 15 years, she said.
In other actions, members of the Baltimore-Washington Conference:
- Ordained 18 as Elders, and one Deacon; commissioned 11 people as provisional Elders; and recognized the Elders orders of Theresa Thames;
- Commissioned Logan Alley and Jane Grays as Deaconesses in The United Methodist Church;
- Joined in a Bible Study by Bishop Young Jin Cho, who urged those present to focus at least an hour a day on spiritual renewal and prayer;
- Honored 31 retirees who, together, represent 559 years of service;
- Received an on-going challenge from Bishop Matthews in his opening sermon to pray each day, bring one person to Christ, and to participate in a partnership with a local school;
- Welcomed Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser, who encouraged churches to continue to partner with the city in addressing homelessness and economic disparities;
- Welcomed a six-member delegation from our partners in the South Conference of the Korean Methodist Church, and Jeanette Gralau Hernandez, the assistant to the bishop of the Methodist Church in Puerto Rico, another of the BWC’s global partners;
- Greeted the Rev. Jeffrey S. Allen, executive director of the West Virginia Council of Churches;
- Learned about the conference’s 34 distinct mission and ministry teams from the Rev. Maidstone Mulenga, conference director of Connectional Ministries;
- Were renewed by the testimony of Nora Meeks, 11, who told the story of meeting an orphan named Rejoice on a mission trip to an orphanage in Zimbabwe;
- Cheered the youth as they outlined their efforts to alleviate stress among young people and their mission of SEARR: supporting, educating, advocating, resourcing and representing youth;
- Met two of the church’s newest missionaries: Mary and Aaron Vanderommers, who serve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Rev. John Calhoun, the jurisdiction’s missionary advocate;
- Prayed with the Rev. Scott Shumaker, who thanked the conference and its leaders as they supported him over the last few years in struggling with his son’s drug addiction. His son, he reported, has been drug-free for a year;
- Sang along to sacred music performed by Stanley Thurston and singers from Foundry UMC;
- Cheered for the 85 churches of the Cumberland-Hagerstown District, which received the General Board of Discipleship’s One Matters award;
- Approved a motion to assist clergy couples with children with the costs of health care coverage;
- Rejected a petition to codify the rules for the Circle of Grace, a small-group process for holy conferencing on social issues that had been used successfully at previous annual conferences;
- Referred to the chancellor new policies on how a church should respond following the death of its pastor;
- Passed petitions that amended the membership of the Nominations Committee, created a policy asking churches not to give loans to their pastors, and calling for superintendents to regularly review churches’ financial records;
- Were introduced to three new conference staff members: Emma Escobar, the Hispanic ministries coordinator; the Rev. Stacey Cole Wilson, director of congregational excellence who will work in connectional ministries in the areas of working with the poor and global health; and the Rev. John Nupp, director of clergy excellence, a new position that will support the Board of Ordained Ministry;
- Began to “twinkle,” to be a light to those in need, at the urging of Bishop James King, who preached at the Memorial Service, honoring the 27 clergy, 27 clergy spouses, the lay members and children of clergy who have died during the past year;
- Prayed for the 100 pastors who will be starting new appointments July 1. Prayers were also offered for the new Associate Lay Leader, Bill Weller; the new chair of the Discipleship Council, the Rev. Robert Clipp; the outgoing Conference Secretary, the Rev. Mary Jo Simms; the incoming secretary, Cynthia Taylor, as well as the many others named by the Nominations Committee to serve in positions of leadership.
Each year, when submitting the actions of the annual conference to the denomination, some statistics about that conference are also requested. This year’s statistics (from 2015) include:
Membership stands at 164,801, down 3,441 from the previous year.
Worship attendance stands at 59,211, down 2,502 from the previous year.
Church school attendance stands at 17,253, down 1,048 from the previous year.
Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2015 were 3,074, down 570 from 2014.
Adults and young adults in small groups for 2015 were 60,828, down 461 from 2014.
Worshippers engaged in mission for 2015 was 63,905, up 4,651 from 2014.
Addressing the members of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, Bishop Matthews issued a simple and decisive challenge: “You have the power,” he said. “Keep on loving people in Jesus’ name, keep on tearing down walls that destroy people, and truly, love the hell out of each other.”
The 2017 session of the Baltimore-Washington Conference is scheduled to be held May 31 – June 3 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington D.C.
--Melissa Lauber, Baltimore-Washington Conference, director of communications