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2008 Arkansas Annual Conference

June 8-11, 2008, Hot Springs, Ark.

"Holy Healthy" living habits were emphasized throughout the 2008 Arkansas Annual Conference session. The conference's first-ever 5K Fun Run/Walk drew more than 200 participants for a 6:30 a.m. trek through the hills of Hot Springs.

A Health Fair hosted by Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare offered screenings for cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure. Clergy and laity alike were encouraged to make healthy lifestyle changes and become better educated about health issues. These efforts are supported by the conference's web site.

"Walk the United Methodist Way" was the theme of the conference. Seven breakout sessions explored John Wesley's seven "means of grace." Arkansas native son D. Max Whitfield, resident bishop of the Northwest Texas/New Mexico Area, was welcomed home as conference preacher.

With a basketball goal positioned in front of the stage on the plenary floor, Bishop Charles Crutchfield contemplated requiring people wishing to address the conference to make a free throw or donate $10 to Nothing But Nets for a missed shot, but he opted for a more lenient approval process. Instead, conference members shot basketballs during breaks for fun.

Special offerings supported Nothing But Nets, the Global AIDS Fund, and water wells and student scholarships for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A proposal from Hendrix College to reduce the number of United Methodist clergy representatives on the college's board of trustees from 10 to 5 was approved by a vote of 338-253. The measure changed a tenet of the college's charter that dates to 1903 and prompted the most spirited debate of the conference. Opponents of the proposal contended the change would weaken the connection between the college and the church. Supporters said the change will strengthen the college by drawing in lay leaders and by making space on the 42-member board for clergy representation from beyond the Arkansas Conference.

The body approved resolutions which: 1) reiterated the conference's opposition to the expansion of legalized gambling in Arkansas; 2) established a minimum quadrennium Advance Special goal of raising an average of $1 per member for the Global AIDS Fund; and 3) expressed the conference's support of the Moratorium Campaign Committee, which is urging Gov. Mike Beebe to place a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in Arkansas.

The conference endorsed the Rev. Rodney Steele, superintendent of the North Central District, as a candidate for bishop. Steele has also received the endorsements of the Arkansas Conference delegation to General and Jurisdictional Conferences and Black Methodists for Church Renewal in the South Central Jurisdiction.

The Board of Pension opted to give the conference's share of proceeds from Cokesbury Bookstores-nearly $10,000-to the Central Conference Pension Initiative, in support of pastors who give their life to the church and retire with little or no pension income.

The conference received a report detailing actions of the 2008 General Conference from its delegation, led by the Rev. Rodney Steele and Asa Whitaker. The 60th anniversary of The Advance was celebrated with a Mission Fair. The body applauded the $90,000 Arkansas United Methodists have given to Nothing But Nets and the responses of churches and individuals to the series of weather-related disasters to hit the state this year caused by a spate of tornadoes, wind storms, an ice storm and flooding.

A report on the conference's 10-year plan for starting 30 new churches was shared. At the five-year midpoint, pastors have been appointed to start 13 new churches in locations across the state.

The Service of Ordination and Commissioning included the baptism of Sadie Joy Ledbetter, whose parents Justin and Susan Ledbetter, are both elders in the conference. Nine people were ordained as elders, one ordained deacon, 15 commissioned and received as probationary members, one received into associate membership and one person's orders from another denomination was recognized. Sixteen clergy took retired status.

The 2009 budget of $2 million was approved. It represents a 2.8 percent increase over the previous year.

Arkansas Conference membership stands at 138,729, down 89 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 56,127, down 483. Church school attendance stands at 85,311, down 3,381.

-Jane Dennis