May 30-June 2, in Acme, Michigan
The Michigan Annual Conference, under the leadership of Bishop David A. Bard, took place May30 – June 2, 2019 at the Grand Traverse Resort in Acme, Michigan — the first ever annual conference session as one body in Michigan.
Three years of preparation brought Michigan United Methodists to this place. New districts and a new staff model began in July 2018. The Detroit and West Michigan conference generations of faith officially transitioned on Dec. 31, 2018.
However, the “liminal (in between) season” talked about in June of 2017 by then conference teacher, Susan Beaumont, stretches on as the future of The United Methodist Church is now uncertain. The shadow of a possible split in the denomination shaped both the agenda and the tone of the gathering, situated as this Michigan Annual Conference was just months between two landmark sessions of The General Conference.
Nevertheless, when God’s people come together in the name of Jesus Christ and John Wesley, it’s an occasion for worship, celebration, learning, fellowship and decision-making. In that regard, this Michigan Annual Conference was like all those that came before over 50 years of making disciples and transforming the world as a United Methodist Church.
Conference preachers and teachers all explored the question of what it means to be faithful in turbulent times. The theme for the 2019 conference was “Bold and Effective Leaders: Wisdom, Courage, Heart.”
On Thursday, May 30, Bishop David Bard exclaimed, “If I only had a brain!” then talked about wisdom as a leadership focus. “This is something of what leadership of wisdom, heart and courage looks like, and our church and world need this kind of leadership, our churches need to be greenhouses growing such leaders.” He described the nurture that needs to happen. “We need to be places that plant seeds that are skills necessary for such leadership – skills in listening well, skills to tolerate ambiguity and not knowing, skills that help people grow in their self-knowledge in light of knowing that they are loved by God, skills in working with difference and conflict, skills in reading and learning together.
Friday’s speakers – Laura Witkowski and Becca Farnum – reflected on the courage it takes to be a leader. Witkowski offered examples of leadership – a US-2 working in Detroit, wives of city workers in Memphis in 1968, and the disciple Peter. “The water is where Jesus is; the water is a task too big for us to do alone. Be ridiculous like Peter. Be more like Jesus,” Laura urged. “Find your ordinary courage. Get out of the boat.”
Farnum, returning to her home conference said, “I’ve seen this courage at work in Michigan. I am a product of the leadership greenhouse Bishop Bard preached on yesterday ... I am forever blessed by the skillset I developed because of opportunities afforded to me by The United Methodist Church.” She then added a challenge, “I was an easy plant ... But to truly live up your potential for youth empowerment, for world change, for discipleship, for developing leaders, it is not the Beccas of the world you need to be investing in … If you want to grow courageous leaders, you must adapt to the plant and give it what it needs.”
The Rev. Jennie Browne and Kristen Grauer, on Saturday spoke about heart as a characteristic that leaders must have. Browne, with children at her feet, retold the story of Esther and her uncle, Mordecai, an account of the Jewish people living under constant threat. She addressed the question, “What was a nice girl like her doing in a place like that?” Then she turned to the thought in the minds of conference members, “What’s a nice person like me doing in a place like this?” Browne spoke of ways that Esther and Michigan’s United Methodists have what it takes to lead and closed with, “Maybe God has called you to this place for just such a moment as this.”
A second PK (Preacher’s Kid), Kristen Grauer, described how her life in parsonages across Michigan prepared her for life on the world stage. Speaking as the daughter of the Rev. Charles and Pat Grauer, and not as a foreign service officer of the U.S. Department of State, Grauer recalled happy times, “I made a bag of gumballs and gave to my friends and told them to ‘Chew this in remembrance of me.’” She remembered learning parliamentary procedure at Youth Assembly at Lake Louise, a skill that now serves her well. Grauer closed her remarks with, “Six reasons why being a PK in small-town Michigan gave me skills to succeed anywhere on earth.” She concluded, “You, the church, taught me this. Commit to a cCause bigger than yourself. Find your moral compass. Care for others. Challenge convention. In other words, ‘Let your little light shine.’”
During the June 2 Service of Recognition, Commissioning, and Ordination, Bishop Bard took listeners back on the yellow brick road of leadership. Encouraging those present, especially those being ordained, to be leaders with wisdom, courage and heart, Bard acknowledged, “The United Methodist Church is different just since the February General Conference. This 50-year iteration of the Christian Church in the Wesleyan tradition may be coming to an end, or at the very least is on the verge of significant change.” Then he added perspective, “It will not be the first time the broader Methodist movement has morphed into something new, but we are not sure just what this will look like or how we are going to get there. We have no yellow brick road and no good witch, Glenda.”
For more detail and full transcripts of these messages read AC members learn lessons in leadership.
All five speakers at annua conference asserted that leadership faces outward as well as inward. An Ingathering at opening worship took in $41,180. Gifts were divided among three important Michigan ministries: $18,439 for Grace Children’s Hospital as designated by the Haiti Covenant Partners; $18,649 for the Bishop Judith Craig Children’s Village as designated by the Liberia Covenant Partners; and $4,091 for the Michigan Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund. A pre-conference 5K Event earned an additional $1,980 for the Disaster Fund.
A celebration of international relationship took place in the Service of Recognition, Commissioning, and Ordination. Bishop Samuel Quire, leader of The Liberia Conference, asked Bishop David Bard to ordain the Rev. Lucinda Eastman. It was a joyous moment.
George Howard, a representative of the United Methodist Board of Global Minsitries, was on hand June 1 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Methodist mission. Howard shared a portion of the 2018 giving to The Advance. Once again, The Michigan Conference excelled in the areas of Disaster Response $564,704 and Missionary Support $273,320. The Rev. Paul Perez was on stage promoting EngageMI, a program that challenges Michigan Conference congregations to comprehensive missional learning, giving and action. A new EngageMI handbook was distributed.
The Ministerial Education Fund received $7,378 in gifts given during the Service of Recognition, Commissioning, and Ordination. The fund prepares men and women for effective ministry through scholarships, support for Course of Study, funding of seminaries and more.
Legislative Committees did their work on Friday evening and did it efficiently. On Saturday morning, Diane Brown, who guides the Annual Conference in its legislative work, announced: “There has never been a Consent Calendar like this! Ten of our 11 resolutions are eligible for the Consent Calendar.” The “Consent Calendar” includes those items that receive overwhelming (90%) support in the Legislative Committee. The following were passed on the Consent Calendar without discussion or vote in the plenary.
- Support legislation lifting a ban on professional and trade licensing for parolees;
- Increase handicap accessibility in churches and parsonages;
- Develop a new Covenant of Ministry and Working Understanding between the Michigan and Liberia conference;
- Support for Michigan Area United Methodist Camping with prayer, volunteer service, promotion, and financial gifts;
- Called for immediate reuniting of families separated at the US-Mexico border;
- Establish an Older Adult Ministries Team on the Board of Congregational Life;
On legislation related to General Conference, annual conference members
- GCP 2019-1: Voted to send a petition to the 2020 General Conference voicing Michigan Conference support to change Par. 2702.1 in the Book of Discipline to add domestic violence to the list of chargeable offenses;
- GCP 2019-4: Voted to send a petition to the 2020 General Conference voicing Michigan Conference support for the Creation of a Central Conference in North America (Par. 28 of the Book of Discipline)
- GCR 2019-2: Responded to uncertainty after the 2019 General Conference, by approving an aspirational statement “to live into an expression of Methodism that includes LGBTQIA people in full life and membership of the UMC.” Bishop Bard was asked to issue a declaratory decision on this resolution; he will do so within 30 days.
- GCR 2019-3: Took a straw poll for the benefit of the bishop and conference leaders seeking to discern the future of The Michigan Conference. Sixty-nine percent of conference members favored “a United Methodist Conference whose policies allow for but do not require clergy to officiate at same-gender weddings, allow for consideration for ordained ministry of persons regardless of sexual orientation, and in which appointments are made with consideration given to the full range of contextual realities.” “Thirty-one percent of Annual Conference members favored instead “a United Methodist Conference whose policies include the current Book of Discipline language on ‘homosexuality,’ same-gender marriage and LGBTQIA+ ordination along with enhanced enforcement of those policies determined constitutional by the Judicial Council.”
In addition, two deacons and nine elders were commissioned, including two openly LGBTQ persons, Alex Plum, and Joan Van Dessel. All were commissioned within the parameters of the current language of The Book of Discipline and church law as defined by the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church.
For more details on decisions related to General Conference , please see AC 2019 signals greater inclusion.
Conference members came together in the space between the 2019 General Conference last Feruary and 2020 General Conference next May. During the course of the 2019 Annual Conference, Bishop Bard made comments addessing that context. Some remarks were made during the legislative process. Following the taking of the aspirational vote (GCR 2019-2) he asked all members to help in careful interpretation of Annual Conference actions: “We will leave from this place some disappointed, some pleased, many bruised, many experiencing moments of delight and grace. To the best of your ability you will help lead your churches to witnessing for the grace of God in Jesus Christ. It will be so in the power of God’s spirit.” After the results of the straw poll (GCR 2019-3) were announced, Bard stated,“It does matter how this poll is interpreted. This is a vote of the people gathered, lay and clergy, in this particular place in this particular time.” The bishop acknowledged the pain and difficulty of taking the poll and the importance of caring for everyone’s feelings saying, “Jesus of the parables cares as much about the 30% as the 70%. I encourage us to continue to do the hard work.”
The bishop addressed the current state of the church in his preaching. On Thursday, May 30, he reported, “General Conference 2019 did not find a way forward for The United Methodist Church, but instead revealed even more starkly the depth of our differences. If some space is not created within Methodism we will continue to be swept up in an increasingly intense cycle of action and reaction.” He then, with sadness, said to the newly-born Michigan Conference, “Part of the reality we are facing, friends, is that we may not be together long. I may be the first and the last bishop of the Michigan Conference of The United Methodist Church.” Bard then assured the Annual Conference of the strength of his commitment in the present. “Yet we are together, here, now. I am the bishop for all Michigan United Methodists, here, now, and I remain deeply committed to this ministry, committed to engaging in this ministry with all the wisdom, heart and courage I can muster by the grace of God.”
In the June 2nd message shared during the Service of Recognition, Commissioning, and Ordination, Bard again addressed the unsettled nature of the moment. “There will be a Methodism that fully welcomes and includes LGBTQ persons, celebrates their relationships, and offers the opportunity to be considered for commissioning, licensing and ordination. There will remain a Methodism that retains traditional positions.” The bishop acknowledged the uncertainty -- “How the two will relate, or how many movements forward there will be, I don’t know” – and concluded with trust –" I hope we might find a way into the future [through the power of God’s love] rather than like a tornado sweeping through.” He again encouraged his listeners to a leadership style characterized by wisdom, courage, and heart.
Find Bishop Bard’s post-conference thoughts in his most recent blog, “Unfishined business from AC 2019.”
Members elected a delegation of 20 persons to participate in setting the course for the future of The United Methodist Church at the 2020 General and Jurisdictional conferences.
The first election took place on the first ballot on Thursday morning; the last ballot results were read on Saturday at 7:45 pm. delegates, in order of election are:
General Conference Laity: Laura Witkowski, Diane Brown, Jennifer Peters, Nichea Ver Veer Guy.
General Conference Clergy: Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, Paul Perez, Joy Barrett, Megan Walther.
Jurisdictional Conference Laity: Ruby Anderson, Hoon-Yung Hopgood, Ruth Sutton, Lisa Hahn.
Jurisdictional Conference Clergy: Charles Boayue, Joel Fitzgerald, Christina Wright, Brad Bartelmay.
Jurisdictional Conference Lay Alternates: Brenda DuPree and Gordon Grigg III.
Jurisdictional Conference Clergy Alternates: Sherri Swanson and Matt Weiler.
The 2020 delegation is the first to be elected by the new Michigan Conference. Laura Witkowski and the Rev. Kennetha Bigham Tsai will serve as co-chairs. The delegation is a diverse group regarding gender, race, and age. There was an intentional effort to elect young leaders. Eight delegates (40% of the full delegation) are under 40 years of age: Lisa Hahn (17); Gordon Grimm III (21); Rev. Megan Walther (32); Rev. Joel Fitzgerald (34); Rev. Paul Perez (37); Rev. Matt Weiler (37); Christina Wright (38); and Laura Witkowski (39).
Counting all the people
Here are some numbers that also tell the story. Conference Statistician Ron Iris shares the reminder that the 2018 statistics still reflect the two annual conferences; 2019 will be combined.
- Number attending the 2019 Annual Conference: 1,960.
- Number of clergy retiring: 33.
- Two deacons ordained, two commissioned.
- Six elders ordained, nine commissioned.
- Two received into associate membership.
- 2020 budget $14,700,910 ($124,723 less than 2019)
88 cents of every dollar remains in the conference.
- Membership stands at 73,047, down 2,138 from the previous year.
- Worship average attendance stands at 32,806, down 1,622 from 2017.
- Church school average attendance stands at 8,991, up 356 from 2017.
- Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2018 were 1,511, down 125 from 2017.
- Adults and young adults in small groups for 2018 were 17,805, down 1,208 from 2017.
- Worshippers engaged in mission for 2018 were 21,542, down 1,532 from 2017.
West Michigan Conference
- Membership stands at 49,654, down 2,051 from the previous year.
- Worship average attendance stands at 28,367, down 1,910 from 2017.
- Church school average attendance stands at 9,249, up 2,081 from 2017.
- Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2018 were 987, down 119 From 2017.
- Adults and young adults in small groups for 2018 were 14,950, up 276 from 2017.
- Worshippers engaged in mission for 2018 were 14,910, down 270 from 2017.
— Kay DeMoss, senior content editor, Michigan Conference