2022 Western North Carolina Annual Conference

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Name of conference: Western North Carolina Conference.

Location of conference gathering: Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center, Lake Junaluska, North Carolina.

Dates of conference gathering: June 16-19.

What was the gathering’s theme? Connect. Inspire. Engage.

Did the coronavirus affect how the conference met? In order to allow for as much social distancing as possible, business sessions were only open for clergy and lay delegates to attend in person. Worship services were open to anyone. Masks were distributed to all attendees and were highly encouraged to be worn while indoors. Conference and Lake Junaluska staff were required to wear masks indoors.

Officiating bishop: Bishop Ken Carter

Guest speakers and memorable points or quotes by speakers: 
The Rev. Edgardo Colón-Emeric, dean of Duke Divinity School, preached during opening worship. His message “After Pentecost” mirrored the 2022 annual conference theme of “Connect, Imagine, Engage.” He encouraged the members of the Western North Carolina Conference to “reconnect with Jesus, reimagine the mission, and re-engage the Spirit.” One of the more powerful moments of his sermon came when he reminded the church that if we are to be followers of a crucified Christ, we cannot turn our backs on the wounds of others.

“We do not hide from bloody wounds,” Emeric-Colón professed. “We dress them.” 

The Rev. Dawn Hand, Central Maryland District superintendent, was the guest preacher for the Celebration of Life service held during the Saturday morning session. Hand reminded us how those whom we remember shined during their time on earth, and how we experienced God’s love through their shining lights.

“In dark places of isolation, their light shined,” Hand reflected. “In the hollows of addiction, their light shined… At home nurturing and raising family, their light shined. In hospital rooms and nursing homes, their light shined… When a call came from God for justice, their light shined… In VBS, taking a pie to the face to prove they’re a ‘cool’ pastor, their light shined…When someone was needed to fill a role in the church, there a [clergy] spouse was shining their light … Could it be that light is the transforming power of God’s love?’

Another memorable moment came when the Rev. Katherine “Kathy” Randall Bryant spoke on behalf of the 2022 full connection class during the retirement service. Using the metaphor of a box of Lego bricks, she spoke of the beautiful creations the many pieces of the retiring class’s ministries have built.

“Of course, there are some pieces we’ve been breaking apart, some with necessary urgency, like the white supremacy, racism and sexism entrenched in our system,” Randall Bryant said. “The ramifications of an ongoing two-year global pandemic continue to affect us. Some pieces are leaving of their own accord, and some are being broken apart.

“We will use these pieces,” she promised the retirees, “to continue to build on the work that you have laid before us, that God continues to lay before us. We will spread the table wider and include more people who are created in the image of God.”

Bishop Carter preached a message at the Ordering of Ministry service on Saturday evening to the 57 candidates to be licensed, commissioned or ordained. He offered these wise words of advice about leadership to the candidates: 

“To those being licensed, commissioned or ordained: Ask the hard questions! Jesus had hard conversations. What kind of church can you help cultivate? You are the sowers. The planter of seeds. The Word of God is powerful, rearranges our identities, our relationships, and the Word of God is NOT simple. Be a part of the solution to the pain and the injustice that our world is experiencing today. Love your enemies, go the extra mile, give a lot of grace and be the Holy people that God wants us to be.”

Bishop Carter finished annual conference with a sermon during the Closing Worship on Sunday morning. He tied in the theme of Annual Conference: Connect, Imagine, Engage. The bishop talked about his experience connecting with God’s purpose for his life, how God worked in him and gave him something to imagine, and how lay people have taught him how to engage.

“Holiness is being made perfect in love in this life. It’s not running from each other but running toward each other. What does holiness mean? If we get that wrong, a lot of people are harmed. If we get that right, then God can work through us. In a very fearful time, in a very polarized time, God is still speaking to us,” Bishop Carter concluded as he bowed his head to pray.

Main actions enacted by the conference: The annual conference celebrated the ordination of eight candidates into full-connection elders, the ordination of two candidates into full-connection deacons, the commissioning of 16 candidates into provisional membership, the licensing of 30 local pastors, the retirement of 60 faithful clergy members and the remembrance of 80 lives well lived. We blessed 24 churches who were leaving the conference through disaffiliation or closing due to declining resources. The 2023 budget and Equitable Compensation grant were approved. The Both/And Initiative was shared by Jason Moore via livestream with the hope that churches would embrace opportunities for deeper engagement and connection through online communities. 

Did any churches disaffiliate or leave the conference? Eighteen churches disaffiliated — the full list can be found here: https://www.wnccumc.org/disaffiliating-churches-2022

Number of churches that closed because no longer sustainable (please list each church and indicate whether financial issues related to the coronavirus were a cause): Six churches were closed this year: Elwood United Methodist Church (Asheville), Giles Chapel United Methodist Church (Randolph County), Helton United Methodist Church (Ashe County), Hodgin Memorial United Methodist Church (Rockingham County), Nebo United Methodist Church (McDowell County), Rockford Street United Methodist Church (Forsyth County).

Any special annual conference set: No

Endorsement of episcopal candidate: The annual conference endorsed the Western North Carolina Conference delegation’s nomination of the Rev. Amy Coles.

Other resolutions adopted by the conference: TheRev. Brandon Lazarus presented a joint report from the Just Compensation Task Force and Commission on Equitable Compensation on Saturday at the conference plenary business session. This presentation included an approved petition to add longevity increases to Base Minimum Compensation. At five, 10, 15 and 20 years of service, clergy will see an increase of the base minimum compensation by about .75 percent per year of service.

For elders and deacons in full connection, this equates to:

0-5 years = $43,260

6-10 years = $44,931.65

11-15 years = $46,732.50

16-20 years = $48,672.52

21+ years = $50,762.47

The full report can be found in the 2022 Program & Reports on pages 33-35: WNCC 2022 Program & Reports

Names of delegates for General Conference and designation of lay or clergy: The full list of the delegation can be found here: https://www.wnccumc.org/gc2020-delegation

Number of people ordained, commissioned or received into associate membership, and average age: 30 individuals were licensed as local pastors; 16 individuals were commissioned as provisional members; two individuals were ordained as deacons; eight individuals were ordained as full connection elders

Number of clergy retired: 60

Membership stands at 248,149, down 3% (257,185) from 2020. 

Worship attendance stands at 54,220, down 20% (68,251) from 2020. 

Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2021 is 1,741, up from 2020, which was 1,269.

Aimee Yeager, director of communications

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