BUSINESS | Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Prayers, patience and perseverance on a sweltering day

by Lois Speelman*


Focus: Fruit That Lasts

Leadership Committee Report
Chair Gordon Myers explained the committee focuses on recruiting, training, nurture, support, and evaluation of the leadership structure.
Myers asked the delegates to note three changes to board or commission names.  These name changes do not require changes to membership or structure.  Myers moved that the name of the Board of Pensions be changed to the Board of Benefits, that the Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships be changed to Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships, and that the Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry be changed to Board of Higher Education and Collegiate Christian Ministries.

Introduction to Resolutions
Conference Secretary Cindy Patterson explained the process by which resolutions are included in the Pre-Conference Workbook.  She then clarified the way that additional resolutions, submitted after the workbook publication date, can be added to the Annual Conference agenda.

Foundation Report
Executive Director of the East Ohio Foundation, Brian Sheetz, spoke to the conference about church endowments. He used a PowerPoint presentation to highlight questions that congregations should consider when discerning starting and/or managing an endowment.

Spending money can attract more money. Tying an endowment to vital ministry practically raises money itself. Unfortunately, some churches are using money from their endowments to maintain their buildings, instead of on ministries to reach people in their communities.  

In East Ohio, 22 churches have more than $1 million in their endowments, with the largest being $4.4 million. The average is slightly more than $230,000 and the median of all churches is just over $100,000.

Stewardship Report
Connie Clark, Stewardship Task Force team leader, offered dictionary and John Wesley definitions of stewardship.  She then cited examples – in words and pictures – of the ways that our conference and our denomination are good stewards of our financial resources in reaching people for Christ.

Financial Report
Financial & Administrative Services Director Vera Rebrovich gave an overview of conference finances. In her first Annual Conference presentation since being hired in April, Rebrovich celebrated that the East Ohio Conference in 2016 paid 100% of its general church apportionments for the 12th- consecutive year.

Unfortunately, not all of the numbers in her report were positive. The pay-in rate in 2016 fell to 82.32% from the 83.21% reported in 2015.  While not a statistically significant change, it is a continued downward trend that causes concern.
The number of churches paying 100% of their shared ministry, 68%, remained the same as the year before.
The benevolent reserve ended 2016 at $293,000; administrative reserve was at a desired level of $1,250,000 and the healthcare reserve ended the year at $2,970,000.

The improved return on investments of 8.3% helped in strengthening various reserve balances. The proposed 2018 budget will remain at the same level for the 13th- consecutive year. Rebrovich stated that this is imperative as costs continue to rise.  She said that the conference will remain vigilant to focus on areas of growth and promise.

In other statistics:  membership fell in 2016 to 144,133 from 147,881 the previous year, a decrease of almost 3%. Average weekly worship attendance dropped to 53,325 from 55,169 in 2015; a decrease of 3%. Professions of faith decreased ½% from 1,989 to 1,982. The good news is that more people were baptized in East Ohio Conference churches in 2016, rising more than 1%, from 1,486 in 2015 to 1,503 in 2016.

The Episcopal Address
The report and video of the Episcopal Address may be found here.

Afternoon Devotions
Camps and Retreat Ministries shared their love of Christ with guitars and voices.  They led a sing-a-long of camp songs that filled Hoover Auditorium with a joyful noise for the Lord.

Four Areas of Focus: Improving Global Health

During business sessions at Annual Conference 2017 many of the reports are scheduled in blocks, based on the Four Areas of Focus of The United Methodist Church.

Kathy Dickriede, chair of the Board of Mission, introduced the first highlighted focus: Improving Global Health.  She emphasized that as United Methodists we care about the health and wellbeing of all people. In the Wesleyan tradition, the Christian faith is not a solitary journey. We are part of a larger community – our church families, our neighborhoods, and the world.

We participate in global health ministry by efforts to combat diseases of poverty such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, opiate addiction; as well as provide health education, advocacy and infrastructure to promote physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

Health & Welfare Committee: Bearing Fruit
Chair Ted Buehl spoke about the covenant agencies that the conference supports through prayer, volunteer activities and opportunities for giving.  These agencies represent a long-standing tradition of supporting ministry and advocacy as an annual conference.

Before moving that the conference renew the covenants of the East Ohio Conference Health and Welfare agencies, Buehl asked people whose lives have been impacted by their work to stand as he spoke of each of the following:
Copeland Oaks functions as a cost-effective option for those desiring Christian values in independent living, assisted living and skilled health care.

Flat Rock Homes provides outstanding services which transform the lives of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities through a dedication to caring that demonstrates Christian values.

OhioGuidestone provides pathways for growth, achievement and success. This agency responds to persons impacted by mental health, addiction, foster care needs, abuse, neglect or other complex issues.

Wesleyan Village recently changed ownership but continues to offer care and services to help older adults experience the fullness of life.

Otterbein North Shore seeks to enhance the quality of life and holistic growth of older persons by giving them options to institutional care.

Pastoral Care
Bruce Hitchcock, chair of Pastoral Care, introduced a video about the office’s services by stating that the Rev. Howard Humphress and his staff continue to offer spiritual formation activities, mental health care, pastoral consultation and educational opportunities.

3Cs Mission Partnerships
3Cs Mission has been offering volunteers an avenue for ministry since 2006. This partnership has hosted United Methodist Volunteers in Mission trips to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Russia.

The reach of the EOC goes far beyond those countries, though.  Partnerships have been formed in locations throughout the United States and in Haiti, Cuba, Honduras, the Philippines, Malawi, Guatemala, Kenya, Rwanda and India.

Teams have traveled to Mexico, Cambodia, New Mexico, Red Bird Mission and Henderson Settlement, the Appalachian Service Project, Nehemiah Mission, Steubenville Urban Mission, Open M and others.

Imagine No Malaria
Gary Henderson, executive director of Global Health Initiative, shared the dramatic impact that the Imagine No Malaria campaign, launched in 2010, has had on saving lives around the world.  Nearly one million people died each year at the time that the campaign was conceived.  Today that number is roughly 395,000. The global malaria mortality rates have fallen by an estimated 60% since the campaign began.

Henderson thanked East Ohio for its witness through their contributions.

Personnel Committee Report
First-year chair Rock VanFossen updated the conference on staff changes initiated by the vote of Annual Conference 2016.
He introduced Director of Multicultural Vitality Will Jones, who has been meeting with conference leaders, groups and a range of caucuses and networks.  Jones has developed a team trained in interpreting the Intercultural Development Inventory as well as other resources offered by the Commission on Religion and Race.

VanFossen then reported that Director of Young People’s Ministries Kaye Wolfinger is now serving in a full-time capacity. She has expanded her work developing networks and resources for youth, young adults and college students.  She also continues to expand the leadership role of the Conference Council on Youth Ministries, Youth Leaders Network and the Young Adult Network.

The personnel committee was also part of the interview team to fill the vacancy for the Director of Financial and Administrative Services.

The committee is in the process of reviewing policies to respond to the evolving benefits and employment procedures of the conference.

Disaster Response
Disaster Response Coordinator, Mike Williams shared that Early Response Teams were asked to provide assistance in North and South Carolina flood sites and in Michigan along with United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Re-Building teams.
The Emotional & Spiritual Care Team members assisted victims of flooding in West Virginia.
Training opportunities were offered in Basic Emergency Response, Recertification and Connecting Neighbors throughout the conference.

Annual Conference Offering
The amount collected Tuesday afternoon was $23,143.  This year the beneficiaries of the offering will be Imagine No Malaria (45%), East Ohio Volunteers in Mission (45%), and the Bishop’s Discretionary Fund (10%).

Four Areas of Focus: New/Renewed Congregations

Director of Young People’s Ministries, Kaye Wolfinger introduced the block of reports that highlight the second Area of Focus: Developing New and Renewed Congregations.

She spoke of the importance of relationships, stating that new faith communities can happen within existing buildings and congregations. We are called to be in relationship with communities that surround our churches and to recapture a spirit of movement.

Laity Address
Conference Lay Leader Greg Rentsch opened his address asking the gathering “What is your purpose? Claim it, proclaim it and live it.”

He challenged all to define the purpose for their church and community, and to prioritize their life based on God is calling them to do.  He reported that the Board of Laity is working to strengthen culture and faith formation by partnering with many groups across East Ohio.

DisAbility Awareness
Chair Bev Hall shared the vision and purpose of the team before inviting people to join an October 21 event co-sponsored by Joni and Friends.  The event, to be held at Ashland Theological Seminary, is dedicated to extending the love and message of Jesus Christ to people who are affected by disability.

She then introduced Samantha Hasselbusch, a blind Christian singer/songwriter who, prior to performing an original song on the piano, offered testimony on walking by faith and not by sight.

Congregational Vitality/Adopt-A-School
Director of Congregational Vitality, Kelly Brown spoke about transformation in communities and neighborhoods. This can be accomplished through strategic partnerships.  

He introduced the Rev. Don Richards, who encouraged churches to get involved in the East Ohio Conference Adopt-a-School Task Force.  Richards asked that 50 churches in the conference adopt a school, offering to help in a variety of ways and settings.  The Task Force will offer funding for expenses related to adopting a school. A training day to equip churches and mentors will be held July 15 at Wooster UMC.

* Lois Speelman, East Ohio Conference Communications

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