June 12-15, 2017 | Lakeside Chautaqua, OH

East Ohio 2017 Annual Conference Report

By Rick Wolcott*

Bishop Tracy S. Malone presided over her first Annual Conference when 656 clergy members, and 742 lay members gathered at Lakeside Chautauqua on the shore of Lake Erie.

This 48th session was the first with the new four-year quadrennial theme Bearing Fruit that Lasts: Called, Committed, and Connected.  Using John 15:1-17 as our guiding scripture, the conference

  • explored what it means to be called and equipped as followers of Jesus Christ,

  • highlighted the joy of making a commitment to take up residence in God’s love, and

  • underscored the importance of being connected to God and our neighbors so that we may bear fruit that lasts by making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. 

“Jesus reminds us that he is the true vine, and God is the gardener.  God is the keeper of the branches.  He is the keeper of our lives, the keeper of our souls – and, oh, how it is to be kept by God,” said Malone.

The Service of Commemoration and Holy Communion recognized 43 saints who joined the church triumphant since Annual Conference 2016.

During the opening business session on Monday afternoon, Lakeside Chautauqua Executive Director Kevin Sibbring welcomed members back to Hoover Auditorium, and Conference Council on Finance and Administration Chair the Rev. David Palmer introduced Vera Rebrovich, director of Financial and Administrative Services.

Monday evening’s Celebration of Retirement recognized 21 clergy who served faithfully for more than 400 years.

“When we live out who we truly are God does unbelievable things,” said Bishop Michael McKee, resident bishop of the North Texas Conference, who preached the sermon during morning worship on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Director of Multicultural Vitality Will Jones was introduced to the conference during the Tuesday Personnel Committee Report.  His position was created by action of Annual Conference 2016.

Many of the reports at Annual Conference 2017 were grouped around the Four Areas of Focus of The United Methodist Church.  Reports on Tuesday highlighted Improving Global Health, and Creating New and Renewed Congregations, while those on Wednesday emphasized Engaging in Ministry with the Poor, and Developing Principled Christian Leaders.

“We strive to help churches and pastors deepen their knowledge of dynamic worship, discipleship pathways, leadership development, cultural competency, community engagement, advocacy, stewardship and small groups – all for the purpose of helping our local churches become more healthy and vibrant as they seek to reach more people, younger people, and a more diverse people,” Cabinet Dean the Rev. Dan Bryant said during the Cabinet Address.

Following the Address, Bryant and the Rev. Karen Oehl each received a Bible from Malone.  They were thanked for their years of service and wished well in their new appointments in the local church.  Rev. Abby Auman and the Rev. Nestor Nazario were then introduced and affirmed as new superintendents in the Mahoning Valley District and the Mid-Ohio District, respectively.

During her Episcopal Address, Malone asked that each East Ohio Conference church:

  • do something bold in this next ministry year,
  • connect with the Four Areas of Focus of The United Methodist Church, and do these three things:
    • Pray for the Commission on A Way Forward, and for the conversations that will take place in the East Ohio Conference in the Fall of this year and the Spring of 2018.
    • Participate in the conversations by sharing and listening, and
    • Stay encouraged and focused on the mission of Christ and his Church.

Nearly 100 clergy under episcopal appointment in the local church and beyond accepted Malone’s invitation to robe and be part of the opening procession in the Service of Commissioning for Ministry, the Ordination of Elders and Deacons, and the Recognition of Associate Members. Seven persons were commissioned, six were ordained, and one was recognized as an associate member during the Wednesday night service.

“God has called you.  God has called us and is always calling us, not to be careful but to be faithful, not to be timid but to lead with courage.  Be bold in your witness,” Malone proclaimed.

Samantha Hasselbusch, a Christian singer/songwriter who is also blind, moved many to tears with her testimony and song during the DisAbility Awareness report.

“To walk by faith and not by sight is a very real and daily object lesson for me and it shows me, I think in a much deeper way, how to truly walk by faith when I can’t see what lies ahead,” she said.

The week was filled with uplifting worship, wonderful fellowship, passionate debate, and a spirit of grace.

“Let us watch together, as we pray together that by the grace of Jesus Christ we will bear much fruit, and fruit that will last,” Malone said.

East Ohio Conference statistics:

  • East Ohio Conference paid General Church Apportionments at 100% for the 12th-consecutive year.
  • Proposed 2018 Conference budget is flat for the 13th-consecutive year (NOTE: Budget was approved on Thursday)
  • 144,133 – East Ohio Conference membership, down 3,748 from last year.
  • 53,325 – Average weekly worship attendance, down 1,844 from last year.
  • 1,982 – Professions of faith, down seven from last year.
  • 1,503 – Baptisms, up 17 from last year.

Closed Churches:

Cabinet recognized the ministry that has taken place during the life of eight churches that closed this year.   The churches are:

  • Beallsvile UMC (Southern Hills District),
  • Beech Grove UMC (Southern Hills District),
  • Branch UMC (Three Rivers District),
  • Goodyear Heights UMC (Canal District), and
  • Guernsey UMC (Three Rivers District),
  • Living Hope UMC (Canal District).
  • Sand Hill UMC (Firelands District),
  • Simpson UMC (Ohio Valley District),

Midwest Mission Distribution Truck left Lakeside Chautauqua carrying:

  • $5,728.75
  • 3,100 Health Kits
  • 530 School Totes
  • 420 Cleaning Buckets
  • 250 Miscellaneous Items
  • 35 Layette Kits
  • 4 Sewing Machines

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

  • $23,143 was given during the Annual Conference offering.  Imagine No Malaria (45%), East Ohio Conference United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (45%), and the Bishop’s Discretionary Fund (10%).
  • $6,000 was raised by the 3Cs Missions 5k Run /1-mile Walk. 

Constitutional Amendments and Resolutions:

Annual Conference members voted on five Constitutional Amendments that had been approved by General Conference 2016.  The following East Ohio Conference-proposed resolutions also came before the body during the week:

Resolution 2017-01: Effectively Recruiting and Retaining Young Clergy of Color
This resolution calls for the conference to actively recruit and retain clergy of color; to actively educate clergy and laity about institutional racism and to annually report the recruitment and retention practices and progress in the conference journal.

Submitted by: East Ohio Methodist Federation for Social Action and East Ohio Black Methodist for Church Renewal
Resolution Supported

Resolution 2017-02: Welcoming the Immigrant in Our Midst
This resolution encourages churches to educate and equip members to provide welcome to migrants and refugees in their communities; advocate for just policies through prayer and discernment and call upon leaders and policy makers to accept refugees and grant asylum based on need.

Submitted by: East Ohio Methodist Federation for Social Action and East Ohio Black Methodist for Church Renewal
Resolution Supported as Amended

Resolution 2017-03: Promoting Human Rights of Palestinians
This resolution asks that the conference create a task force to review actions that can be taken to halt the expansion of settlements and confiscation of Palestinian land and call on governments to forge solutions based on international laws and human rights.

Submitted by: East Ohio Methodist Federation for Social Action and East Ohio Black Methodist for Church Renewal
Resolution Supported as Amended

Resolution 2017-04: Criminalization of Communities of Color
This resolution calls on churches to offer safe spaces host town hall meetings to discuss police-community relations; to pray; to applaud peaceful mass protests and to oppose punitive measures in response to civil disobedience.
Submitted by: East Ohio Methodist Federation for Social Action and East Ohio Black Methodist for Church Renewal
Resolution Referred Back to the makers of the resolution

Resolution 2017-05:Christian Behavior toward GLBTQ People
This resolution calls on the conference to demonstrate Christian love for all people; oppose all kinds of hate and physical violence; acknowledge difference over homosexuality and encourages congregations to witness to their communities about the dangers of violent behavior.

Submitted byEast Ohio Methodist Federation for Social Action and East Ohio Black Methodist for Church Renewal
Resolution Supported

Resolution 2017-06: Day of Repentance
This resolution asks that the conference declare the last Sunday of June to be a Day of Repentance, providing an opportunity to ask God’s forgiveness for divisive and destructive interactions.

Submitted by: East Ohio Methodist Federation for Social Action and East Ohio Black Methodist for Church Renewal
Resolution Supported

Resolution 2017-07:Maintaining Health Care for the Most Vulnerable 
This resolution asks that the conference oppose repeal of the Medicaid expansion; oppose reducing payments to Medicaid; oppose efforts to reduce existing amount of health care coverage and support expansion of health care and insurance so all have access to affordable care.  

Submitted by: East Ohio Church & Society and the East Ohio Health & Welfare Committees.
Resolution Supported

Resolution 2017-08: Maintaining the Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2016
This resolution asks that the conference commit to support fully and continually the Biblical, historic and current teaching, positions and polices as stated in The Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2016.

Submitted by: Church Council of Shreve United Methodist Church – Shreve, Ohio.
Resolution Ruled Out of Order

Resolution 2017-09:Encouraging Churches to Host Workshops on Addiction
This resolution asks that the conference commit to encourage churches to host workshops on addictions.

Submitted by: Youth Annual Conference 2017.
Resolution Supported as Amended

Annual Conference will return to Lakeside Chautauqua on Monday, June 18, 2018, for the start of the 49th annual session. 

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

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