May 31-June 1, in Wasilla, Alaska
On the pleasant — yet mosquito-filled — evening of May 29, the Alaska Conference of gathered at Christ First United Methodist Church in Wasilla, to begin their business with lay and clergy sessions. Many had gathered earlier in the day for workshops on community organizing, social media, endowments, and disaster response.
As a missionary conference, Alaska does not ordain clergy. Therefore the clergy session is more a chance to share with the bishop and recognize the clergy who will be leaving the conference in the coming year. This was a time to hear the bishop’s perspective on General Conference 2019 and what she is anticipating in the coming year. The lay session was a celebration of the many ways laity are working on behalf of the conference and larger denomination.
The conference was called to order on Friday, May 30, with Bishop Elaine J.W. Stanovsky officiating.
The waters of baptism shaped our worship time. The Rev. Kathleen Weber opened with a remembrance of baptism. The Rev. Carlo Rapanut reminded the conference of those who have gone before us in the faith that we remember. The Rev. Lowell Greathouse (OR-ID) closed time on Saturday, June 1, with a look ahead towards the flames of Pentecost.
Much of the conference was spent in table talks — a time of deep conversation and listening related to the future of the Alaska Conference in light of General Conference 2019. Conference members shared about the uniqueness of the conference mission setting and the churches while also discussing what would be best for the conference as it moves forward into uncharted territory.
A missionary conference has some privileges and some limitations related to our own self-determination as a conference. The conference doesn’t want to lose what we think makes our conference unique in the larger denominational structure and we recognize how we have been very dependent on our United Methodist sisters and brothers around the globe.
Superintendent Rapanut summarized these important discussions:
We talked about the future of The United Methodist Church prompted by the report of the delegates to the 2019 General Conference special session and the bishop’s address.
The GC delegates outlined how we got to where we are from GC2016 as well as actions of GC2019 and corresponding Judicial Council rulings.
Bishop Stanovsky presented a biblical and theological basis for inclusion and invited certain people to share on seven possible future pathways for the denomination and reports from UM Forward, UMC Next and WCA. Through polling, the delegates were able to express how they are feeling about the state of the church as well as answer which of the following alternative futures they lean towards, their church leans towards and where God is calling us as a conference.
The Alaska Conference’s future as a Missionary Conference was discussed in two sessions.
In the plenary that was primed by the lay and native leaders’ addresses, delegates had a chance to weigh in via a word cloud poll and small group conversations about the Alaska Conference’s unique call, gift and mission.
The next day, building on the previous conversation, delegates were asked what values should be part of a compelling next expression of Alaska Methodism. The superintendent and leadership team chair shared the realities we are facing as a missionary conference with decreasing support from United Methodist Global Ministries.
Two possible alternatives were presented—become a mission district of another conference; or withdraw from the denomination. Small groups talked about the pros and cons as well as questions and concerns.
Some of our main legislative actions:
- Adopted an “Alaska Conference Special Sunday” for the second Sunday of September each year.
- Established a Disaster Preparedness and Response Conference Advance Project. This is to better respond to disasters such as the November 30, 2018, earthquake that shook the most populated areas of the state.
- Voted to offer an amendment to the language of Resolution 3371 in the Book of Resolutions to reflect the latest findings and research on racial injustice.
- A motion was passed to request a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council as to whether or not the option of withdrawing as an annual conference (or in our case, as a missionary conference) is provided by the 2016 Book of Discipline and by previous Judicial Council decisions.
- The conference affirmed the four commitments that came forth from the UMC Next meeting at the Kansas City United Methodist Church of the Resurrection on May 20-22:
We believe these commitments are essential to a hope-filled future for the global Methodist movement as we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world:
1. We long to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ, committed to a Wesleyan vision of Christianity, anchored in Scripture and informed by tradition, experience, and reason as we live a life of personal piety and social holiness
2. We commit to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in all forms and toward all people and build a church which affirms the full participation of all ages, nations, races, classes, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations, and abilities.
3. We reject the Traditional Plan approved at General Conference 2019 as inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ and will resist its implementation.
4. We will work to eliminate discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Discipline regarding LGBTQ persons. We affirm the sacred worth of LGBTQ persons, celebrate their gifts, and commit to being in ministry together.
In other actions:
Four individuals were commissioned as missionaries in the Alaska conference, average age 35.
Delegates to General Conference 2020 were elected. Lay delegates are: JoAnn Hayden (delegate), Lonnie Brooks (alternate), Fran Lynch (alternate), and Kelly Marciales (alternate). Clergy delegates are: Jim Doepken (delegate), Dan Wilcox (alternate), Lisa Talbott (alternate), and Bennie Grace Nabua (alternate).
Membership stands at 3,153, down 155 from the previous year.
Worship attendance stands at 1,720, down 90 from the previous year.
Church school attendance stands at 624, up 45.
Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2018, 57 down from 2017 by 48.
Adults and young adults in small groups for 2018, 730, down from 2017 by 209.
Worshippers engaged in mission for 2018, 1424, up 11 from 2017.
— Jim Doepken, Alaska Conference communicator