Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, wearing a mask and adhering to social distancing guidelines, convened the session from First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge, Saturday, Nov. 21. The session was live-streamed to delegates and the public via Zoom webinar and available for viewing on both the conference website and Facebook.
Bishop Harvey preached an inspirational Episcopal Address, one that looked back at the unprecedented year of 2020, challenging to see the pandemic as an opportunity for growth.
"While our world has changed and nothing is familiar, our destination has not changed – how we get there has changed – we have changed – but God is still God," said Bishop Harvey. "Thanks be to God. The disruption might actually be good for us. Every once in a while, a pause is good in order to make sure that our "route" is still good, best, faithful. Could we see this time as a much needed Sabbath? A season to reconsider, to lay fallow, to consider how we will cross the boundary with courage and with the assurance that there is, in fact, bright hope for tomorrow? This time will require courage in the midst of fear."
Watch the 2020 Episcopal address.
The 2020 Theme
The theme of this year's session concluded a three-year emphasis: Making Disciples; Transforming the World: Together, In Love, Day After Day.
The work was grounded in the Great Commission from Matthew 28:16-20 with the sub-themes "Together" (2018) highlighted in Act 2:42-47, "In Love" (2019) coming from Romans 13:8-10, and "Day after Day" (2020) taken from The Message translation of the Great Commission, Matthew 28:20, that Jesus Christ will be with us "day after day after day."
"Three years ago, when we chose our theme who would have ever imagined we would find ourselves here - preparing for a virtual Annual Conference," said Bishop Harvey. "We are in unprecedented, unknown and uncertain territory. Yet, of one thing, we remain certain, God is with us. God was with us yesterday, is with us today, and will be with us in all of our tomorrows - day after day after day."
The business session began with a unique motion by the Rev. Tom Dolph, conference secretary. The motion stated and asked, in part, consent to proceed in a virtual annual conference session using remote technology and further consent that all decisions made in this session will have the same effect and authority as an in-person session of the annual conference under the terms of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church. It passed, and the session proceeded.
Included in the business session was a lengthy discussion about the budget for 2021. During the business session, members approved a budget for 2021, adopted the report of the Conference Board of Pensions and Health Benefits, received the report of the Board of Trustees, which included votes to close seven churches, and heard an update on the conference led disaster response to multiple hurricanes that made landfall in Louisiana in 2020.
The 2021 budget of $6,314,462 is $1,465,137 less that the 2020 budget reflecting a 18.83% reduction. This reduction continues the strategic work of balancing mission and stewardship and determining core functions of the conference while at the same time working to keep more resources at the local level where mission and discipleship are best carried out.
A proposed redistricting plan that was to be presented by a task force established by the Council on Finance and Administration was postponed until 2021. The conference will continue with its current six districts, being served by 4 District Superintendents.
Statistics from the Louisiana Conference
The number of professing members in the Louisiana Conference at the close of 2019 was 111,959, down from 114,626. Total Professions of Faith were 1,029, down from 1,240 the year prior. The total number of professing members at the close of the year was 108,904, down from 111,840. The average attendance at all weekly worship services in the Louisiana Conference was 32,958, down from 34,624 the year prior.
More statistics can be found here.
Celebration of Ministry Service
One week earlier, the Conference held its Clergy Session, along with the Service of Commissioning and Ordination. The pandemic shifted how the celebration took place and included limited seating, masks for all those present, and plenty of hand sanitizer. None of the uniqueness was lost on Bishop Harvey.
"Yet, in the midst of pandemics, a strained racial and political climate, God is still calling people, and they are saying, 'Yes!' says Bishop Harvey. "God continues to place a call on people's hearts and lives that cannot be shaken. It is a high and holy privilege to lay hands on these persons and say, 'take thou authority to proclaim the Word of God.' The road to ordination is difficult in the best of circumstances. In this season, it is more important than ever that we send out these newly ordained persons into the world to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to a world so desperate for good news.”
Watch Celebration of Ministry Service.
Board of Ordained Ministry Report
The Rev. Brady Whitton, chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry, reported the following licensing and ordination numbers. Those commissioned to perform the duties of the ministry of deacon included Rebecca Wharton Bowers, Tiffany Sylvia Lyon, Latrice Shonta Mallard, Chyrelena Lynn Peyton, and Carol Shelton Twyman. (Carol Shelton Twyman was not present due to her responsibilities as a physician with COVID patients and will be ordained at a later time.)
There was one person commissioned to perform the duties of the ministry of elder —Samuel Jackson Hubbard II. Three persons were ordained as deacons — Clair Loraine Carter, Leah Stevens Gaughan, and Susan Dungan Lawrence.
And finally, five persons were ordained as elders in full connection. Those persons were Joshua Roy Elder, Michelle Perret Harris, John Reynolds Sewell, IV, Amanda Rose Price Smith, and Christopher David Winterman. (Chris Winterman and Reyn Sewell were not in attendance Friday, Nov. 13, as both were quarantining due to COVID exposure. Bishop Harvey plans on ordaining both Winterman and Sewell in a later service.)
The conference remembered the lives of one associate member, six elders, two deacons, and three local pastors.
— The Rev. Todd Rossnagel, Director of Communication Strategies, Louisiana Annual Conference
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