The theme for the 2021 New England Annual Conference was “Building Beloved Community,” and the community of lay and clergy members gathered online for three days of holy conferencing from June 10-12.
The conference opened with worship and Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar’s annual episcopal address in which he lays out his vision for the coming year. This year’s address was titled “Building Beloved Community While in a Foreign Land,” and was based on the guiding Scripture for the 2021 annual conference session: Psalm 137:4 as well as Jeremiah 29:11-14.
As we emerge into a new, post-COVID world, the bishop said, “Let us call on the Lord our God. Let us search God with all our hearts. Let us move forward together in a future filled with hope as we build our beloved community in new and exciting ways.”
It was during this address that the bishop outlined his plan for the creation of a new team to help lead New England forward. Annual conference members approved Bishop Devadhar’s proposed Vision Forward Team “to advance the strategic imagination and mission” for the New England Conference. The team will continue work begun by the New England delegation to the General and Northeastern Jurisdictional conferences to gather leaders and stakeholders to “provide collaborative insights to the incoming bishop, and to the delegation as they deliberate in the coming conferences.”
Over the four months, the delegation has hosted a series of consultations among more than 50 participants in order to identify strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities facing New England. Bishop Devadhar called on the Vision Forward Team to advance this consultative work and “help our conference dismantle the silos, build more trust and collaborate better together” by reviewing and improving the strategic plan to bring to the 2022 annual conference.
The annual conference approved the 2022 conference budget, which eased the financial burden on local churches by including a reduction in Mission Shares.
Approved the Commission on Native American Ministries’ resolution asking the New England Annual Conference to acknowledge and commemorate May 5th as National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and recognize and celebrate the second Monday in October as Indigenous People’s Day. United Methodists are encouraged to wear red on these days to show support and raise awareness.
Approved the Commission on the Status and Role of Women’s (supported by the Commission on Religion and Race, the Board of Ordained Ministry, and the Committee on the Episcopacy) proposal to create a Sex/Gender-Based Crisis Response Team “to address, heal, and seek justice in circumstances where persons have been harmed on the basis of their sex, gender, gender identity or gender expression.”
Following a painful, daylong deliberation, the annual conference approved the disaffiliation of three congregations, which decided to depart in protest of the denomination’s stance on homosexuality: Chebeague Island (Chebeague Island, Maine), (Hope.Gate.Way, Portland, Maine) and Tuttle Road (Cumberland, Maine). These congregations completed the conference’s discernment process (minimum of eight months; adopted at the 2019 annual conference).
While debating the ratification of the disaffiliation agreements, the conference struggled with concerns over clergy status, privilege, institutional racism, equity and LGBTQ solidarity.
Other aspects of annual conference — such as the Laity Session and ministry celebration — were video presentations including a celebration of the newest licensed local pastors and the conference’s 20 retirees, whose years of service totaled nearly 500 years.
The Rev. Dr. Charlotte Pridgen-Randolph, New England elder and co-chair of the board of ordained ministry, preached at this year’s memorial service. Dr. Pridgen-Randolph’s sermon was on John 3:1-11 New Living Translation in which Jesus teaches Nicodemus; a passage, she said, that’s “worth reading over and over again.”
“Your loved ones, our colleagues, mentors, friends, preachers and teachers have completed their work,” said Dr. Pridgen-Randolph. “… The torch, the mantle is passed on to you and you and you and I to carry on the work, the ministry, making disciples, going on missions, righting wrongs, fighting for justice, being merciful when we’d rather not, and yes, actually loving some pretty unlovable people, even exercising forgiveness.” All of which is possible, she said, through God’s love.
Along with remembering the saints of the New England Conference, the 2021 memorial service was a time to remember and celebrate the ministry of churches that were approved for closure in 2021:
• Round Pond United Methodist Church, Round Pond, Maine
• Waldoboro United Methodist Church, Waldoboro, Maine
• Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, Gray, Maine
• Simple Church United Methodist Church, Grafton, Massachusetts
• Simple Church United Methodist Church, Worcester, Massachusetts
Service of Ordination and Commissioning
While the business sessions were conducted online via Zoom, the service of ordination and commissioning was held in person and included both the classes of 2020 and 2021 at First United Methodist Church in North Andover, Massachusetts. The service was held outdoors so that the candidates could include family members.
Bishop Devadhar was the preacher for the service of ordination and commissioning, and he acknowledged that due to the pandemic it had been a long wait to this moment for the members of the clergy class of 2020.
Even so, the bishop encouraged these new clergy to get right to work. His sermon was titled “Roll Up Your Sleeves,” based on 1 Peter 1: 13-16 (The Message).
“Christian ministry, whether done by laity or clergy, is all about rolling up our sleeves,” the bishop said. “Though I may be challenged, let me say this, my dear commissioners and ordinands. We become elders or deacons par excellence, not through how we do our theological gymnastics from the pulpit or wherever our primary appointments as deacons or clergy on extension ministry are, not as liberal or conservative pastors, not through our accent-free teaching, not through our gender, not through the color of our skin, but through our risk-taking courage, our readiness to embrace the pain, and our ‘willingness to roll up our sleeves.’”
Ordinands — Class of 2020
Kathleen Decker Szakas
Commissionees — Class of 2020
Brian Hyungsuk Choi
Alicia Vélez Stewart
Commissioned as Deaconesses
Ordinands — Class of 2021
Commissionees — Class of 2021
- —Beth DiCocco, director of communications
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