2022 Michigan Annual Conference

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The fourth session of the Michigan Annual Conference met in Acme, Michigan, June 2-4, with the theme, “Mourning to Dancing.” 

After two years of virtual conferencing forced by COVID-19, there was a spirit of homecoming in the air as 1,567 members and friends came back together at Grand Traverse Resort. To “see each other’s face” indeed brought joy, but masks were a reminder that coronavirus continues to leave its mark on lives and ministry. All members had agreed to abide by health and safety protocols set forth by the Commission on the Annual Conference.

Bishop David Bard greeted members of conference in person for the first time since 2019, saying, “At my second annual conference with you, I greeted you with, ‘You came back!’ Given all our anxieties and concerns, I want to simply celebrate, ‘You came!’ It is wonderful to be together again!”

The bishop preached words of wisdom from Psalm 30, relating how “mourning does not disappear, but dancing comes to the foreground” for those who trust in God. He proclaimed, “We trust that God is up to something new, even when it seems the world is moving backward, away from God’s purposes, away from God’s dream for the world.” 

In a post-conference blog, the Rev. Paul Perez, remarked, “[We] have been through so much these past two years … Unfortunately, there have been too many injuries along the way. Given this reality, we need to do Annual Conference a bit differently this year.” 

Perez, Michigan’s Director of Connectional Ministry, explained that the 2020 and 2021 virtual conference prioritized polity (decision-making). “This year, there was a conscious effort to rebalance our Conference, prioritizing the revival and fellowship dimensions.”

Times of revival

Preachers, teachers, and musicians provide daily uplift, beginning with the Opening Worship and Memorial Service on Thursday afternoon. Bishop Bard’s sermon, “Bad Luck Streak at Dancing School,” addressed the “Mourning to Dancing” theme of resiliency. 

Mentioning gun violence, racism and the “prolonged separation within Methodism,” Bard said, “We trust God is up to something new, even in our dividedness and brokenness, so we dance.”

 Bard quoted jazz great Dave Brubeck, who once said, “Detroit was a great place to play in a dance hall. Boy, could they dance in 5/4 time!” The bishop then concluded his sermon saying, “When cynicism is prevalent, God’s time signature is hope. So, we dance. When violence is prevalent, God’s time signature is peace. So, we dance. When divisiveness seems so strong, God’s time signature reminds us of common humanity, of sharing in the image of God. So, we dance. … To be in ministry, we need to feel and mourn, and we need to dance.”

During his teaching session on the morning of June 3, the Rev. Dr. Ron Bell picked up on the reality that God’s people are tired, weary and worried. Bell, the pastor of Camphor Memorial United Methodist Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, said, “We struggle to give human answers because we’ve got to be machines. The problem with iron man theology is that it’s not real and doesn’t last. And so, we struggle because we haven’t accepted the reality that we’re human, we’re flawed, and that’s OK.” 

Bell returned as the morning preacher June 4 and spoke again about King David, the Incredible Hulk, and post-traumatic growth. “Post traumatic growth is the ability, in my hulk-ness, in my smashed-ness, to thank God for keeping me and helping others. … Post traumatic growth is the ability to look into the storm, the waves and winds beating against the boat and to identify a speak of peace.”

Derrick Scott III, Laity Event speaker in 2021, returned in 2022. Scott is the executive director and United Methodist campus minister for Campus to City Wesley Foundation in Jacksonville, Florida. During the Laity Event held June 3, Scott discussed parameters for building spaces of resilience in congregations. He stressed the importance of, “holding space for people’s stories. If we’re going to go from mourning to dancing, we must … find a way to create the space, hold the space, so that we can hear what’s really going on in our lives and in the lives of people in our communities.”

Significant time was spent on embracing the vision of the Michigan Annual Conference within the context of troubled times of trauma-informed ministry.

            The Michigan Conference equips and connects through Christ-centered:
            mission & ministry … bold & effective leaders … vibrant congregations

Panel discussions, videos, introduction of resources, and sharing success stories around each aspect of the vision took place on June 2 and 3. Panelist Christopher Hintz, co-pastor of Marquette Hope United Methodist Church, perhaps summed up the spirit of these presentations best, saying, “This is an opportunity to celebrate the great re-set that has been handed to us. The future looks exciting and offers new possibilities.” 

Bishop Bard expressed a similar sentiment when he emphasized the importance of holding on to the vision in troubled times. “Resurrection is how God works!”

The bishop continued, “We wanted more time this year to hear stories about how God is at work in people’s lives. That’s the heart of who we are. I don’t diminish legislation but celebrating connectionalism is important. Every vision story you have heard this week is a part of YOUR story.”

Times of decision-making

One of the first votes taken during the opening plenary on June 2 was the endorsement of an episcopal candidate. Following the report of the Michigan Delegation, the Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai’s name was placed in nomination by Laura Witkowski, co-chair of the Michigan Conference Delegation to General and Jurisdictional Conference. The delegation had endorsed Bigham-Tsai in January 2020 in anticipation of the North Central Jursidiction elections scheduled for July of that year. However, the pandemic postponed the usual election cycle three times.

In placing her name before the annual conference members, the delegation cited Bigham-Tsai’s experience with the worldwide church, deep faith, vision as a bridge-builder, commitment to full inclusion of LGBTQIA persons in the church’s life, and passion for racial justice as “equipping her to deal with what the denomination is currently facing and beyond.”

The vote count was reported by Bishop David Bard on Friday: 766 (83%) in favor of endorsement (154 not in favor). The bishop explained, “This means that Kennetha will be part of an election process in the North Central Jurisdiction. She goes with your endorsement, and that means a lot to a candidate.” 

The North Central Jurisdictional Conference meets on Nov. 2-5, 2022.

Critical administrative matters needed members’ discernment and action. Members acted on resolutions on June 2 and 3 that cared for issues and needs in the life of the conference, its congregations and our neighbors.

Members approved a $480,000 campaign called “Readers to Leaders,” paying school fees for children in Liberia and young people expanding the capacity of Freedom Schools in Flint and Detroit.

A District Working Group recommended the reduction of the Michigan Conference’s nine districts to seven districts, effective July 1, 2023. The bishop will determine the boundaries of these seven districts, with “penciling in” starting Nov. 22, 2022, to be finalized by Feb. 1, 2023.

Six months after the village of Oxford, Michigan, experienced the tragic school shooting that killed four students and injured seven others, the Michigan Annual Conference voted overwhelmingly to take action to address the rise in gun violence. Rules were suspended to allow action on the resolution calling for specific actions, including participation in the End Gun Violence Now movement, contacting legislative leaders regarding enhanced background checks, and reinstatement of the ban on assault weapons. Following the approval of the resolution, Bishop Bard prayed, “out of a deep peacefulness of heart, may we create a more peaceful world for us all.”

Members affirmed Actions for The Future of The UMC, including the Covenant to Build BeLoved Community, an open letter by UMC leaders titled A Call to Grace, and A Narrative for the Continuing United Methodist Church from the Council of Bishops.

The Conference Trustees guided members through the solemn business of church closures and disaffiliations. Trustee Chair Jim LeBaron introduced Dean of the Cabinet, Jerome DeVine, who shared Legacy reports for 10 churches. DeVine then moved the closure of these congregations: Grand Rapids: Genesis; Kent City: Chapel Hill; Lansing: First; Lulu, Minden City; Monroe: Calvary; Redford: New Beginnings; Vickeryville, Fenwick, and Palo. Before voting, LeBaron said, “This is not a token vote. You bring to a formal close … the life of those 10 churches. That’s a remarkable responsibility.” For the full Legacy Report, click here.

LeBaron brought four United Methodist churches before the body for disaffiliation according to Paragraph 2553 of the 2016 Book of Discipline: Battle Creek: Baseline UMC, Canton Friendship UMC, Northwest UMC (Kalamazoo), and Twin Lake UMC. After these votes were taken, Bishop Bard observed, “We hold together mourning and dancing and, right now, mourning is in the foreground. It is a moment of separation. But we trust we can work amid our brokenness.”

The Rev. Brad Bartelmay, chair of the Council on Finance and Administration, presented a budget that “addresses the ongoing financial challenges, shifting to zero-based budgeting … and taking a long view to establishing a pathway toward funding for the future.” Bartelmay noted that the $11,608,106 total is a 4.1% reduction from 2022. While reduced, the budget does allow raises for the conference staff, who have not seen an increase for the past two years.

Click here for a full report of legislative action.

Times of celebration

Family reunions focus on people and the 2022 Michigan Annual Conference was no exception.

The Great Cloud of Witnesses surrounded worshippers at the Memorial Service on Thursday afternoon. Those saints who died since last year’s conference are remembered here.

Retirees were honored during a Wednesday evening event. These 38 elders, deacons and local pastors represented 1,004 years of service combined. Highlights of the celebration included music from the Drum Voices of Greensky, a drum band from Greensky Hill Indian United Methodist Church near Charlevoix, and slam poems by Jeremy Peters, Dillon Burns and Jenaba Waggy. A complete list of retirees is found here.

Persons were recognized with a variety of awards. The Revs. Charles Farnum (2020), Deb Johnson (2021), and John Harnish (2022) received the Francis Asbury Award, conferred by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry for significant contribution to fostering United Methodist ministries in higher education. Jim LeBaron was presented with the John Buxton Award for creative leadership for his exemplary service as chair of the Conference Board of Trustees. The Rev. Kay DeMoss was recognized as one of the first deacons ordained in the West Michigan Conference upon the occasion of her retirement as Senior Content Editor for the Michigan Conference. The Harry Denman Award of the Foundation of Evangelism was given to Rev. Craig VanBeek and Michele Weston. Ken Sloane of Discipleship Ministries presented the One Matters Award to New Heart UMC.

On June 3, three deacons and 14 elders were ordained. Another two were commissioned as provisional deacons and seven as provisional elders. Individuals from the Course of Study classes of 2019-21 were recognized. The ordination of three elders was recognized and one associate member. Bishop Bard told candidates, “The world waits for some wise and wild voices to lead us back to spiritual sanity.” Read his sermon text here. The Service of Recognition, Commissioning and Ordination may be viewed hereMeet the 2022 Bishop Candidates for ordination and commissioning here.

Conference members blessed persons they have never met with generous giving as follows: $16,720 to Haitian Assets for Peace International for maternal health care; $16,720 to the Bishop Judith Craig Children’s Village for food for children and wages for staff; $3,716 to UMCOR for Ukraine Relief; Ministerial Education Fund $4,047. To date the 5K for Child Hunger has received $17,932 ($11,219 from Troy Korean UMC, $4,420 online registrations, $2,293 onsite donations).

The conference statistician reports these trends:

  • Membership in 2021 was 105,943, down 4,368 or 4.8% from 2020.

    Average Worship Attendance in 2021 was 35,311, down 8,603 or 19.6% from 2020.

  • Sunday School Attendance in 2021 was 7,061, down 3,569 or 34% from 2020.

    Professions of Faith in 2021 were 1,102, up 154 or 16% from 2020

  • Adults/young adults in small groups in 2021 numbered 23,414, down 410 or 1.7% from 2020
  • Mission Engagement in 2021 was 27,327, down 1,645 or 5.7% from 2020

Bishop David Bard closed the 4th session of the Michigan Annual Conference on at 5 p.m. June 4 with hope. “We had 17 ordinands!” he shouted. “Being the gentle, non-competitive persons that we are, I don’t know how that compares with other conferences in the jurisdiction,” he added with a smile. “I am excited about the future of the Michigan Conference. Annual conference is not an end in itself, and I hope you will take your experience of God in this conference back to your local church where ministry happens.” 

He continued, however, with a word of uncertainty. “Friends, I don’t know what role I may play in the future of this conference. The North Central Jurisdiction will meet in November and make assignments for the next two years.” Bishop Bard went on, “I don’t want to create anxiety or anticipatory relief … But I don’t want to miss this opportunity to say thank you. It is with you I became a bishop, and I will always be grateful.” 

He concluded, “What is most important is knowing God is not finished with us yet. God continues to turn morning into dancing. I say Alleluia!”

Kay DeMoss, Senior Content Editor, Michigan Conference


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