2015 Annual Conference Business Sessions

Filling in ballot2015 Annual Conference Report

By Rick Wolcott *

The 46th session of Annual Conference was convened inside Hoover Auditorium at Lakeside Chautauqua on Monday, June 17, 2015. 

This year 701 clergy and 780 lay delegates gathered to encourage one another to take the next steps in their faith journey.

Jesus is Calling Us Up.

The keyword for the conference was Encourage.  Worship, leadership development and presentations all focused on ways we can all encourage others to take the next step in their faith journey.

“God’s love is so strong that God invites us to be something different, not force us,” said Bishop John L. Hopkins during Monday’s opening Service of Commemoration and Holy Communion.  “It’s that continuous love, regardless of what we do, that pulls us close to Him.”

Candles were lit on the altar, and hand chimes rung, as the names were read of 48 saints who joined the church triumphant since Annual Conference 2014.

Following housekeeping agenda items and a greeting from Lakeside Chautauqua’s Kevin Sibbring, the State of the Conference address got everyone’s attention.

“Our churches need to have a long-term plan,” said Conference Treasurer Jessica Vargo.  “Not just ‘how are we going to make it through the year?’ but a long-term, multi-year plan.” 

Her report acknowledged some of the challenges facing East Ohio and the denomination, before challenging delegates to find their passion.

“If we find our passion with God, making disciples and modeling that for others, a turnaround is no longer a question of if, but simply a matter of when,” she said.

The Celebration of Retirement Monday night recognized the passion of the largest retirement class in the history of the Conference, 42 clergy.

“God’s call is not for the faint of heart.  God’s call is not for those who are easily intimidated,” Bishop L. Jonathan Holston of the South Carolina Annual Conference told the 12 elders about to be commissioned and the 2 deacons and 11 elders about to be ordained, during Tuesday night’s Service of Commissioning and Ordination.

“We are called to discipleship living, kingdom living, difference-making living,” he said.

Tuesday morning had begun with Barbara Boigegrain, General Secretary and CEO of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, sharing her faith story.

“We have to trust that if we try to be aware of and use our talents; that we keep at it every day, taking one step after another; that when we reach the end we will have served God’s purpose in the world.”

Throughout this year’s Annual Conference, delegates were elected to represent the East Ohio Conference at General Conference 2016 in Portland, OR and Jurisdictional Conference 2016 in Peoria, IL.

The following resolutions came before the body during the week:

Resolution 2015-01 – On Jail and Prison Ministry would encourage churches to remember the spiritual needs of prisoners and their families and seeks ways to become involved in the re-entry process.  Submitted by: EOC Prison Ministry Investigative Team, William Watts, chairperson.  The resolution was adopted.

Resolution 2015-02 – Commending Ohio General Assembly for Anti-poverty Work would commend the Ohio General Assembly for their renewed commitment to addressing the cycle of poverty and encourages churches, partner agencies and leadership to continue to advocate for this cause and that copies of the resolution be sent to the legislators.  Submitted by Chaplain Jared Gadomski Littleton.  The resolution was adopted.

Resolution 2015-3 – A Call to Respond to the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict asks that all United Methodists make a prayerful effort to educate themselves on the issue of a peace that is just for all sides,  and that  local churches be encouraged to participate in the observance of the World Week for Peace in Palestine, and that the East Ohio Conference encourage local churches to boycott products made by Israeli or American companies operating in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.  Submitted by the EOC Church and Society Committee, Rev. Nathan Howe, chair.   The resolution was not adopted.

Resolution 2015-4 – A Declaration of Church Buildings as Weapon-Free Zones asks that local churches be encouraged to make every attempt to declare its building as a weapon-free zone, including displaying such declaration at each entrance of its building.  Submitted by the EOC Church and Society Committee, Rev. Nathan Howe, chairperson.  The resolution was not adopted.

Resolution 2015-5 – A Call to The United Methodist Church to Oppose Legalized Marijuana in Ohio asks that every member of The United Methodist Church of the East Ohio Conference oppose any effort and legislation that would legalize the use of marijuana for recreational reasons in the State of Ohio.  Submitted by Bucyrus United Methodist Church Missions and Outreach Committee.  The resolution was adopted.

The following petitions to General Conference came before the body during the week:

Petition 2016-01 – Global Book of Discipline and Social Principles states that it is not in our best interest as a denomination to attempt to have the General Conference establish Social Principles unchangeable global statements of church position. Submitted by First United Methodist Church of Oberlin, Ohio, Rev. Andy Call.  The petition not supported

Petition 2016-02 – Effectively Recruiting and Retaining Young Clergy of Color asks that The United Methodist Church in all of its United States annual conferences will actively recruit and retain clergy of color, with particular efforts to recruit and retain young clergy of color, using empirically supported culturally relevant employment practices for African American, Native American, Latina/o, and Asian American/Pacific Islander clergy.  Submitted by Martha E. Banks, Woodland UMC, Akron, OH.  The petition was not supported.

Petition 2016-03 – Clergy Supervisory File and Connectional Integrity asks that clergy have the right to review their Supervisory File annually, so that clergy will have total knowledge of its contents. Clergy shall have the right to include written challenges to the file’s contents and address issues requiring professional growth.  Submitted by: Rev. Chester H. Harris.  The petition was supported.

Petition 2016-04 – Regarding Use of Language asks that the Book of Discipline, ¶161F be amended because the current position of the UMC is in direct opposition to a basic Wesleyan tenet that we are to “Do no harm” because individuals, families, and the church have been hurt continuously by the current stance of the UMC.  Submitted by the East Ohio Reconciling Ministries Network and East Ohio Methodist Federation for Social Action, Bill Watts, chair.  The petition was not supported.

Petition 2016-5 – Regarding Standards and Conduct for Ordained Clergy calls for amending Book of Discipline ¶304.310 presents a barrier to keeping qualified clergy of all sexual orientations and gender identities from serving our church. In times of need for a rebirth of The United Methodist Church, we are forcing these very talented and gifted individuals to other denominations. Individuals of all sexual orientations and gender identities are fully competent to carry out the duties of ordained clergy in the UMC.  Submitted by the East Ohio Reconciling Ministries Network and East Ohio Methodist Federation for Social Action, Bill Watts, chair.  The petition was not supported.

Petition 2016-6 - Equalization of the Annual Conference Membership asks that the formula be changed to represent the true numbers that are present for conference, ensuring a more balanced and therefore “equalized” annual conference. Petition submitted by Charles Yoost, Church of the Saviour. Petition supported.

Thanks to the generosity of delegates and their congregations, countless lives will be touched because of the money given during these offerings:

  • $12,891.30 was given during the Annual Conference offering.  Youth and Young Adult Ministries, Volunteers in Mission International teams, and the Bishop’s Discretionary Fund each will be the recipient of one-third ($4,297) of the offering.
  • $32,334 was given during the 3Cs offering, which benefits churches, clinics and classrooms in Russia, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe.
  • $883 was given to the Youth Service Fund (YSF) during the youth/cabinet challenge. 

East Ohio responded again this year to the needs of the Midwest Mission Distribution Center.  During Annual Conference the following items were donated to the MMDC  truck:

    • $8,937 – Money
    • 3,618 – Health Kits                                                          
    • 717 – Cleaning Buckets                                                   
    • 659 – School Kits/Bags
    • 472 – Personal Kits/Blankets
    • 11 – Sewing Machines                                                    
    • 4 – Bikes  

Other pertinent numbers from Annual Conference 2015:

  • 150,928 – East Ohio Conference membership, down 3,563 from last year.
  • 58,018 – Average weekly worship attendance, down 2,253 from last year.
  • 17,155 – Church school attendance, down 797 from last year.
  • 2,271 – Professions of faith, down 145 from last year.
  • 1,669 – Baptisms, down 166 from last year.

As we begin a new Conference year, the Rev. Dr. Charles Yoost offered this challenge during his Thursday morning sermon, “Don’t stay on the sidelines.  Don’t be half-hearted.  Our team hasn’t been up to bat yet!  Put your whole self in!  Jesus is calling.  Do you hear His voice?”

Annual Conference will return to Lakeside Chautauqua on Monday, June 13, 2016, for the 47th business session.  The theme will be Jesus is Calling Us Out.  The last year of the quadrennium will focus on ways that churches can transform themselves, the community and the world.

*Rick Wolcott is director of communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.