June 6-9, in Hempstead, New York
In a continuation of the theme, “Pathways & Possibilities,” the New York Annual Conference explored what it means to be “Journeying Together,” as it met for the 220th session from June 6-9 at Hofstra University on Long Island.
Laity and clergy came together Thursday afternoon for opening worship led by resident bishop, Thomas J. Bickerton.
“The important thing as we begin is that we need to worship together and to break bread,” Bishop Bickerton said as he began his message. “Remember, a lot has happened since we were last in this place.”
With chapter 1 of Paul’s jailhouse letter to the Philippians as his text, the bishop admitted that it’s been difficult to find his legs and his voice after the Special General Conference in St. Louis.
“As a result of what has and is happening to us, I’m struggling to figure out where it is I can stand,” he said, as he stomped the ground for emphasis. He lamented that in many places the church had become the storm instead of a refuge from it.
“Don’t you feel like we’re in prison chained up by the conditions of the world?” he asked. “That makes me admire Paul even more. In the midst of his own grief and fear . . . he was able to proclaim that God had claimed him and was using him to be a difference maker in the world.”
The bishop noted that the apostle Paul never lost sight of what God had done for him, and the kind of spiritual revival that Paul experienced on the Damascus road may be exactly what’s needed in the church.
“When it all piles up as we race from one place to another trying to find some security and assurance, you just want to cry out, ‘Where do I stand, O God?’ ”
After a moment’s pause he began to sing “Standing on the Promises” and was soon joined by the gathering.
“That sounds like a great place to stand to me!” he concluded.
In his “State of the Church” address Friday, the Bishop Bickerton urged the gathering to focus on loving and caring for one another and the world as the work is done to create new pathways and possibilities for the denomination and the conference.
He was clear in stating that The United Methodist Church is in an “untenable situation . . . a situation that you cannot hold” and that we have failed in our attempts to stay together.
“It’s time for us to find a way forward and explore seriously what it means to ‘bless and send rather than fight and rend’ for the sake of the mission of the church,” he said.
The next steps that the bishop detailed were:
- The assignment of all churches to cooperative parishes focused on training leaders and engaging in deeper conversations about a way forward in the NYAC.
- “Next Steps” roundtable of 35 leaders to discuss how to “create models or expressions of how we live out our various viewpoints in venues that are safe, non-judgmental, and focused once more on the mission of the church.”
- Work across the connection of the church to create alignments of similar thought with other annual conferences.
“We are together until we are not . . . more than ever we should be exhibiting a deeper care and sensitivity toward one another in this highly vulnerable and tender time,” he said.
Commission on Religion and Race General Secretary Erin Hawkins spoke before the gathering twice; first as the preacher for the Celebration of Ministry service, and later on Saturday in what she called an “uncomfortable, but necessary” conversation about not repeating the sins of the past as the UMC moves forward.
In her sermon, Hawkins invited reflection on being “called for a purpose” with the Exodus story of Moses’ call as her text.
She reminded the body that the same God who was with Moses, who was with enslaved Africans in the hold of slave ships crossing the Middle Passage, with the Native Americans on the trail of tears, “with the people of God in every age and stage of life, is still with us.”
Hawkins challenged both laity and clergy to recognize that “if we want to know who God is, we have to step out into the world and be with the people of God, because we are made for community.”
The afternoon discussion provided time for honest, and sometimes painful, table conversations about how “power, privilege, and proceeds” and “the agenda of whiteness” play out in the conference.
With Acts 2:5-10 as a guide, Hawkins spoke about how those gathered for Pentecost heard and understood one another in a new way.
“That’s what church was always intended to be,” she said.
But The United Methodist Church has not always gotten it right on racism, or any of the other “isms.”
Hawkins said that “othering” occurs when certain people are dehumanized just because of who they are.
“No matter what expressions develop for The United Methodist Church, we need to speak a language that’s authentic so that all can be lifted up,” Hawkins said. “That’s the principle of co-liberation. Everyone has life and has it abundantly.”
The conference fittingly drew to a close on Pentecost Sunday amid a sea of red and orange streamers with the ordination service. In his message based on Ephesians 1:4-6, Bishop Bickerton reminded those gathered of what the Apostle Paul referred to as “immeasurable riches of God’s grace in kindness toward us.” Grace that is offered over and over again without fail, despite the failings of humanity. Grace that leads to a “divine progression” of faith throughout life. “God never gives up, so the story continues,” he said.
“The calling God places on our lives has a demand attached to it,” the bishop said. “Live a wife worthy of the calling. How? By being humble, gentle, patient, loving cooperative, and desiring of unity.”
He told the class of ordinands and the confirmands in attendance for the Pentecost Sunday service that he had never admired a group more than these.
“You have said ‘yes’ to joining a church that does not have its act together,” he said.
“You have said ‘yes’ to a caravan that is wandering in the wilderness struggling to find its way. And you have said that you want to be ordained into this mess because somehow, God’s call on your life is real and cannot be avoided.
“By faith, you bear witness to a divine progression, an eternal gift of grace that still today invites us to be a part of the story,” Bickerton said.
One of the many special moments during the service came in the baptism of two children. The bishop baptized Grayson Chupungco, son of Angelo and Susan Goodman Chupungco; and his grandson, Holden Carrubba, son of Chris and Elizabeth Carrubba. The Rev. Susan Chupungco would be ordained an elder later in the service.
Those ordained as elders in full connection in addition to Chupungco were Carol Bloom, Karina Feliz, Matthew Querns, Jody Spiak, and Elon Sylvester. Lea Matthews, an openly gay candidate, was ordained along with fellow deacons Janet Cox and Arletha (Lisa) Miles-Boyce. Gregory K. Higgins, Kevin J. Mulqueen and Dora Janeway Odarenko were received as associate members.
Some clergy and laity continued the tradition of wearing rainbow-colored armbands in support of LGBTQIA persons. A few other clergy members, who support the current wording in the Book of Discipline on human sexuality, carried small signs into the service that read, “STAND: For God’s Word. With God’s Word. On God’s Word.”
In a statement following the ordination service, Bishop Bickerton said of the newly ordained Matthews, “The strong affirmation from the Board of Ordained Ministry and the overwhelming support expressed from the clergy session were clear confirmations of the amazing gifts that Lea possesses. Her call is deep and clear, as is her effectiveness. She truly is a gift to the church.”
In other highlights, the gathering
Elected 18 as delegates and reserves for the 2020 General and Jurisdictional conferences. Two lay members of the delegation are between 35 and 40 years of age. Five self-identify as LGBTQIA+. Four of the clergy delegates were supported by S.T.A.N.D. (Scripture’s Timeless Authority Never Dismissed)
Laity: Fred Brewington, Jorge Lockward and Gail Douglas-Boykin.
Clergy: Noel Chin, Denise Smartt Sears, and Tim Riss.
Laity: Tiffany French Goffe, Ann Craig and Karen Prudente.
Clergy: Alex da Silva Souto, Sungchan Kim and Adrienne Brewington.
Laity: Roena Littlejohn, Katie Reimer, and Daisy Tavarez.
Clergy: Paul Fleck, Chongho James Kim, and Marjorie Nunes.
Honored the lives of 47 clergy, and clergy spouses, widows, and children who had passed away since the last conference, including a remembrance of Bishop C. Dale White.
Heard Fred Brewington remind the laity session that the church has faced difficult times before. He stressed the importance of laity in fulfilling the mission of the church to make disciples. Laity need to “challenge one another because there is important work to do” that can’t be left for others, Brewington said.
Celebrated the retirement of 23 clergy with some 725 years of total service; 12 had more than 30 years of service, and four had more than 40 years. In that “passing of the mantle” service, 10 new local pastors were licensed, and 11 were granted provisional clergy status – one as a deacon and 10 as elders. Bishop Alfred E. Johnson assisted Bishop Bickerton in the service.
Participated in a service of healing and anointing.
Marked the 200th anniversary of Methodist mission by hearing from Becky Parsons, NEJ mission advocate, and Hannah Reasoner, a young adult member of the NYAC who was just back from two years as a mission fellow in Colombia.
Heard from the Rev. Kenda Creasy Dean about engaging youth and young adults. The Rev. David Gilmore, director of congregational development and church revitalization, announced a “Hatch-athon” event in October to develop innovative ideas for engaging youth.
Viewed a short video commemorating the evangelism of circuit rider Jesse Lee.
Presented the Denman Evangelism Award to Pastor Tom MacLeod and the North Fork United Methodist Church, a merger of four churches on Long Island.
Applauded ministry grants presented to four churches by the United Methodist Frontier Foundation.
Presented the Shirley Parris Service Award to Fred Brewington.
Collected 4,542 hygiene kits and 200 cleanup buckets for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
Received $50,007 in offerings for the Bishop’s Partners in Mission, Black College Fund, Mozambique cyclone relief, Justice for Our Neighbors NY, and the Young Clergy Debt Assistance.
The conference members approved the following legislation and reports:
- “Truly Open Doors,” which was ratified in plenary, calls for full inclusion and resistance to injustice and oppression, as well as congregational self-evaluations regarding inclusion and bias.
A call to local churches to explore white privilege and racism in their communities, churches and within themselves through study, worship, preaching and prayer.
The right of individuals – under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and study of the scriptures – to personally interpret the truth of the biblical message in its bearing on their own life and the life of the world.
The creation of an intersectional task force to develop workshops for organizing and action based on the “NYAC Clergy and Lay Statement on General Conference 2019.”
The development of young adults for leadership roles in the conference, as well as delegates for General and Jurisdictional conferences.
The requirement for all entities that invest conference funds to consider divesting from fossil fuel and to report twice a year on their efforts to do so. The Council on Finance and Administration report stated that as of March 2019 it had divested of all its fossil fuel funds.
A petition to the 2020 General Conference requesting a change in the voting restrictions for members of the Conference Council on Finance and Administration.
Conference Board of Pensions and Health Benefits report suggesting a $18,240 uniform healthcare rate, a 6 percent increase over the 2019 amount.
A 2020 budget of $8,414,443, a decrease of 0.1 percent over the 2019 financial plan.
The closing of three churches: Dover Plains and First Newburgh churches in the New York-Connecticut District, and Pleasantville United Methodist in the Metropolitan District.
Statistical data reported for 2018:
- Membership stands at 95,907, or down 2,406 from the previous year.
- Worship attendance stands at 28,363, down 1,014.
- Church school attendance stands at 7,247, up 319.
- Professions or reaffirmations of faith made were 1,720, up 6 from 2017.
- Participation of adults and young adults in small groups was 11,352, up 93 from 2017.
- Worshippers engaged in mission numbered 11,507, up 949 from 2017.
Submitted by the Rev. Joanne S. Utley