2021 Arkansas Annual Conference

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Officiating bishop: Bishop Gary Mueller

With ongoing COVID-19 safety concerns limiting the number of people who can safely gather indoors, the Arkansas Conference offered a hybrid model Annual Conference in 2021, allowing both in-person and virtual attendees to vote, worship and fellowship together.

The model allowed people attending online and people who met at the Hot Springs Convention Center in Hot Springs, Arkansas to conduct the business of the Annual Conference together. It was a first-of-its-kind event that combined the livestream video conferencing capabilities of Zoom with the live business conducted on the floor of the Annual Conference.

“We gathered together for three days of Annual Conference as the United Methodists of Arkansas. That is our usual practice as United Methodists. What was unusual was the way we did it,” said Bishop Gary Mueller of the Arkansas Conference. “Cutting edge hybrid technology facilitated by our outstanding staff team enabled everyone to fully participate, and the Holy Spirit deepened our desire to make disciples of Jesus Christ.”

During the conference, voting members and visitors were able to hear two presentations from leading voices in The United Methodist Church. Both presentations were entirely on Zoom. The Rev. Dr. Michael Beck presented on Fresh Expressions US and the way in which his organization has become more vital in a world that was shut down in 2020. Fresh Expressions US is a model of discipleship that seeks to reach people where they already are, whether that’s a tattoo parlor, a dog park, a burrito joint, or online.

The Rev. Dr. Erin Beasley and the Rev. Dr. F. Willis Johnson presented a discussion on dismantling racism and building toward racial reconciliation. Both Beasley and Johnson are contributors to the book “I’m Black. I’m Christian. I’m Methodist,” edited by the Rev. Dr. Rudy Rasmus and released in 2020 through Abingdon Press.

The recipient of this year’s Barnabas Award was the Rev. Maxine Allen. It is given annually by the Board of Ordained Ministry to a person, lay or clergy, who has a heart for pastors and mentoring others.

The Harry Denman Evangelism Award was presented to the late Rev. Jim Lenderman and Beth Lenderman, the Rev. Lenderman’s wife. Jim Lenderman lost his battle with cancer earlier this year. The youth Denman Award was presented to Phoebe Sanders.

The One Matters Award, given to a local United Methodist Church that exemplifies remarkable leadership in their community, was presented to Hawley Memorial UMC of Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

The Arkansas Annual Conference ordained four elders in full connection, and one deacon in full connection. There were also three elders who were commissioned, and one new deacon who  was commissioned this year. More information on the ordinands and commissioned members can be found at arumc.org/2021/04/2021-arkansas-conference-ordinands-and-provisional-members/.

In total, there were 360 members who participated in the Annual Conference on Zoom, 486 in-person members, and 92 who chose to attend a mix of both in-person and virtual.

The Arkansas Conference also celebrated the retirement of 15 clergy members, whose total combined service added up to 320.25 years.

The Conference adopted a resolution to establish a relationship with Project Transformation in the Arkansas Conference. The resolution can be found on page 62 of the Pre-Conference Journal. A substituted resolution that differs from the printed version in the PCJ was passed at Annual Conference.

The Conference’s Delegates to General Conference are as follows:

Clergy: Mark Norman, Michael Roberts, Lynn Kilbourne, Jessie Waddell Teegarden

Lay: Karon Mann, Todd Burris, Miller Wilbourn, Elizabeth Fink

Membership stands at 121,131, down 3,635 from the previous year.

— Caleb Hennington, digital content editor, Arkansas Conference

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