The 146th session of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference convened for a second consecutive year in Puyallup, Washington, June 7-9. Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky of the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area was the officiating bishop.
The Showplex Center on the campus of the Washington State Fairgrounds was the setting for the numerous conversations, legislative work, and worship of the 600-plus lay and clergy members and guests in attendance. Childcare, some preliminary meetings, and Friday’s clergy session were hosted nearby at Puyallup United Methodist Church.
In worship and plenary, members explored what it means to truly love God as they moved deeper into the Greater Northwest Area’s four-year theme and scripture, Luke 10:25-28. This year’s tagline was “Love Like This and You Shall Live.”
A Greater Northwest Area team supported by the Rev. Grace Cajiuat, a worship consultant from the Wisconsin Annual Conference, prayerfully planned and executed each service. Revs. Alissa Bertsch and Katy Shedlock from the PNW Conference were joined by Revs. Richard Füss (OR-ID) and Emily Carroll (PNW, serving in Alaska). Lay member and regular accompanist Todd Shively passionately directed the conference choir through a rendition of Mark Miller’s “Child of God” during the Commissioning and Ordination Service.
The Rev. Kathleen Weber, Crest to Coast Missional District Superintendent, was the preacher at the Opening Worship on June 7, a service which invited attendees to remember their baptismal vows. In the first message (Watch) of several to reference denominational angst, Weber encouraged, “When we have trouble trusting, let’s turn to water.” The service would also include the baptism of Madeline Grace Stanton-Nurse, whose mother would be commissioned as a provisional deacon two days later.
The future course of United Methodism and the impact of General Conference 2019 actions was a topic throughout most of this year’s session. Marie Kuch-Stanovsky and the Rev. Mary Huycke coordinated a report on the General Conference 2019 on June 7. Participants in recent events, Our Movement Forward and UMC Next offered insights on larger denominational conversations. Local members of the Wesleyan Covenant Association also spoke to the body offering their reflections and desires. Conference Treasurer Brant Henshaw provided a brief look at several potential “Pathways” leaders across the denomination are exploring.
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky invited members to be in “honest, unvarnished, and vulnerable conversation” during her Episcopal Address (Video) which followed soon after. She acknowledged that The United Methodist Church was in uncharted territory, something she anticipated in part when she invited members and churches to study McLaren’s book “We Make the Road by Walking” together as part of a CrossOver year.
Throughout her address, Stanovsky acknowledged the differing opinions and beliefs held within the church, the various questions surfacing for people, and the loss of control that many are experiencing across the spectrum. She anticipates that decisions will likely arrive over the next year at every level, but the options are not yet before people.
In closing, Bishop Stanovsky shared that while she intends to remain in ministry with all, she “can’t be silent in a church that won’t see when the Holy Spirit is at work, that can’t behold a new thing, that isn’t able to listen or sing a new song.”
Later in the day, Table Talk conversations, a diverse panel during Laity Session, and an evening Town Hall helped members to engage both Stanovsky’s address and the nuanced content that preceded it.
The second morning brought an impromptu statement from two youth members of the conference. Falisha Hola and Katy Ritchey lamented the difficult scheduling that made the participation of young people especially difficult this year and their sense that youth are often tokenized. The body received their message enthusiastically and later approved legislation dramatically increasing the number of young people who can participate as members in the future.
The Rev. Carlo Rapanut, Alaska Conference superintendent, was the preacher at this year’s Memorial Service. Rapanut, who lost both of his parents late in 2018, offered a message (Video) that was both personal and affecting. He encouraged those mourning the loss of a loved one, or even The United Methodist Church as they knew it, to give themselves time in the space in between to grieve. “Don’t rush [your grief], it’s OK to be there.”
On the final day of conference, the Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference, preached during the Service of Commissioning and Ordination. Greathouse took full advantage of the day of Pentecost (Watch), speaking about that moment when the Church was born and connecting it to a disappointing 2019 General Conference when the Spirit did not show up. “What took place at Pentecost happened for some reason. There can’t be room in one’s heart if there are assumptions and judgments. If we can’t see Christ in one another, then there isn’t enough room for Pentecost to happen…”
The Work of the Body
On the second morning of the conference, members divided into two Focus Sessions to consider close to three dozen petitions. Nearly half of those petitions related in some way to the passing of the Traditional Plan at the 2019 General Conference and the desire of many in the Pacific Northwest to avoid its implementation and the additional harm it would cause the LGBTQIA+ community. Most petitions would pass easily through committee to be adopted on the floor.
Simultaneously, conference members were invited to alternative, collaborative discussions on a range of topics—gatherings which produced three new pieces of legislation and resources for congregations interested in resisting the Traditional Plan.
All of the approved and perfected actions of the conference are available for review online here. Those include petitions calling for the exploration of disaffiliation, the creation of a task force to establish a new legal entity which might host a new expression of Methodism, and another which expresses the will of the conference regarding the prioritization of complaints relating to LGBTQIA+ matters. The conference directed its secretary to send a petition to General Conference calling for the formation of the United States as a Central Conference.
Awards recognizing Women in Ministry, Peace with Justice, and One Matters were delivered during plenary. First UMC of Olympia’s Refugee Ministry Team, Seattle: The Well’s Beating Guns Peace Garden, and Island Time Activities partnered with Seabold UMC to receive Peace with Justice grants. The Rev. Paul Jeffrey was awarded the PNW Conference Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award.
The Rev. Mike Ratliff, Associate General Secretary of Young People's Ministries for Discipleship Ministries, was on hand to deliver the One Matters Award alongside PNW Executive Director of Connectional Ministries the Rev. David Valera, to Deer Park United Methodist Church. The Rev. Gregg Sealey, Inland Missional District superintendent, received it on their behalf, sharing a story exemplifying the excellence of Deer Park’s hospitality.
The Rev. William Gibson offered a report on the work of the Greater Northwest Innovation Vitality Team (Watch). In 2019, the area will see the launch of six new projects and two multicultural hub pilots in Portland and Tacoma. Gibson shared again the importance of doing our ministry with real attentiveness to listening to our communities, particularly those voices that are too often overlooked.
The body also took time to recognize retiring Conference Chancellor Llew Pritchard for his 48 years of service, likely a record in the denomination. It received a video highlighting his long tenure and elected him Chancellor Emeritus. The conference also greeted and elected new Chancellor Molly Gabel. Stanovsky awarded Pritchard a Bishop’s Award for his many years of service.
The conference also celebrated 200 years of Methodist Mission and 150 years of United Methodist Women. The former provided an opportune segue to a celebration of retirees as two beloved conference missionaries happened to be retiring this year. A special video interview of the husband and wife missionaries, the Revs. Paul Jeffrey and Lyda Pierce, was shown.
Delegates and reserve delegates to the 2020 Western Jurisdiction were elected during the conference session. 2020 General Conference delegates and reserves had been elected in 2019. The completed delegation well represents the church the Pacific Northwest aspires to be—diverse in age, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
Conference dates for 2020 were set for June 10-14, 2020, with plans to hold a shared session with the Alaska and Oregon-Idaho Conferences. Rev. Kathleen Weber invited the conference to meet again in Puyallup at the Showplex Center, an invitation that was affirmed.
Some Data Points
During the Ordination and Commissioning Service, nine individuals were ordained as elders and admitted to full connection. Two individuals were commissioned in preparation for the order of elder and one into the order of deacon. We recognized the new license of a local pastor, and the retirement of 15 pastoral leaders.
Offerings and gifts were received during the weekend for a Safe Harbor Fund to support clergy persons and candidates outside of the Greater Northwest Area endangered by the actions of the 2019 General Conference, help to offset the disproportionate travel costs for those who will join us from the Alaska Conference next year, and support for groups participating in a rebuild effort underway in Saipan. An offering was also received for the Jamaa Letu orphanage in the Congo. Giving for these items at the conference totaled $5,898.50, $2,961.05, $3.502.30, and $7,277.74 respectively.
Finally, at the Memorial Service, in grief we mourned, and with joy we honored, 24 saints who have gone on before us and three churches whose ministries will end, but whose legacies will live on.
- Membership stands at 36,845, down 898 from the previous year.
- Worship attendance stands at 16,417, down 368.
- Church school attendance stands at 4,450, down 54.
- Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2018 stand at 694, down from 2017 by 51.
- Baptisms stand at 295, down 92 from the previous year.
- Adults and young adults in small groups for 2018 9,888, down from 2017 by 505.
- Worshippers engaged in mission for 2018 9,979, down from 2017 by 302.
— Patrick Scriven, director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries, Pacific Northwest Conference