2008 Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference
June 4-7, 2008, Peoria, Ill.
The 2008 Illinois Great Rivers Conference held its 12th annual session at the Peoria Civic Center and focused on "Living the United Methodist Way," spotlighting John Wesley's general rules of "doing no harm, doing good, staying in love with God."
A video segment began each day with one of the three areas. In the first segment, retired pastor Miley Palmer described how his family coped with the February campus shooting at Northern Illinois University in dealing with the death of his granddaughter Ryanne Mace. The second segment featured the story of Mississippi teen Elizabeth Cumbest who has raised $45,000 for Gulf Coast hurricane relief with her music. The third segment provided a cross-section of insights on how to stay in love with God.
The gathering was the final conference for Bishop Sharon A. Brown Christopher, who announced her retirement last fall. Christopher has been the only bishop of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, which united just two weeks prior to her arrival in 1996. On the opening night, Christopher gave a reprise of the Episcopal Address she delivered at General Conference in April in Fort Worth, Texas.
The address, which gained wide acclaim across the connection, was received warmly by the 2,000 members of the annual conference as she told stories of transformation wrapped into the liturgy of communion. A farewell celebration was held that recounted Bishop Christopher's call into the ministry at a time when women had just received the rights of ordination. Several speakers also paid tribute to Christopher's 20 years of service12 in Illinois and eight in Minnesota.
Bishop Bruce Ough, episcopal leader from the West Ohio Conference, was the special conference speaker as he presented the Council of Bishops' Seven Vision Pathways and resourced the conference around transformational leadership in the local church.
Conference members gave their enthusiastic support for the candidacy of the Rev. Timothy Bias, pastor of Peoria First United Methodist Church, as its candidate for the episcopacy following the report of the conference's delegation to General Conference.
The conference focused on aligning financial resources in the $14.6 million budget with the stated priorities of developing spiritual leaders; developing disciple-making systems; new and revitalized congregations; mission and outreach; and communication relations and technology. Members approved revisions to a comprehensive plan for church growth and development to include the new Congregational Development Leadership Institute, aimed at creating a culture for church growth.
In an attempt to improve communication within the conference, conference clergy voted to require all pastors to have an e-mail account provided by the conference. Laity voted to allow the publication of their e-mail addresses on a voluntary basis.
Members approved a resolution protecting wilderness areas and approved a designated Older Adult Recognition Day in May.
The conference also celebrated its partnership with the Liberia Annual Conference. Both Bishop John G. Innis and conference lay leader Rudolph Merab led a delegation to the annual conference with Bishop Innis preaching the ordination service. In all, more than $1 million was raised during 2007 for a variety of projects in Liberia focusing on education and scholarships; pastoral salary support; church reconstruction; and healthcare, particularly sleeping nets to combat malaria.
Special offerings totaling more than $50,000 were collected for a variety of causes: $11,089 collected by conference laity for the construction of a new school in Monrovia, Liberia; $14,819 for an educational endowment fund that will provide scholarships and construction funds for Liberia; $7,274 for Africa University to provide scholarships for two students, including one Liberian student; $4,642 for the Tom Brown Scholarship at Wiley College; $6,558 for the ordinands work mission trip to Liberia in spring 2009; and $5,893 for the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund.
Six elders and one deacon in full connection were ordained and one associate member was elected. Four probationary members on the elder track were commissioned. Twenty-three pastors retired with a combined experience of 645 years.
Membership stands at 144,978, down 2,678. Worship attendance stands at 70,019, down 4,412. Church school attendance stands at 24,171, down 2,681.