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2008 Mississippi Annual Conference

June 8-10, 2008, Jackson, Miss.

Mississippi United Methodists voted to change the conference structure for doing ministry and to begin a four-phase move to direct billing for clergy pension and insurance.

The Mississippi Annual Conference, meeting at Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson, voted to change the standing rules to accommodate a plan for creating a "called" plan for ministry. One of the key changes is how the leadership of the conference works. A group of 25 people will be primarily responsible for keeping the denomination's mission before the annual conference. That mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Coupled with the 25-member Connectional Leadership Team are five "tables"-spiritual leadership, reconciliation, mission, stewardship and young people. Each table's purpose will be to gather together people who have a passion for those areas of ministry. The Connectional Leadership Team will be convened by the conference lay leader, while each table also will have a convener.

Another slight change will be how those tables are manned. While conveners will be offered as nominees, those attending the conference will have the opportunity to choose the table to which they are called. Committees required by the Book of Discipline will still stand, but committees won't be seated for the sake of having a committee.

Amid lively debate, the conference voted to begin a four-phase process to remove clergy pensions and insurance from the apportioned budget and bill churches directly for the funds. Some argued the plan is unfair to small-membership churches, putting too much strain on their budgets. Those in favor of the plan pointed out that most churches would see their appointments reduced. Some churches have seen their apportionments go up nearly $100,000 with a large percentage of the increase to cover pensions and insurance. The measure passed by fewer than 100 votes.

The Council on Finance and Administration presented each church and each clergy member with a new Connectional Giving "toolkit" that explains the conference and general church budgets. The resources are designed to explain where money given to the church goes. The council also announced a plan offering a specialty license plate. If at least 300 people sign up and pay the $31 fee, the conference can offer a specialty plate. Of the $31 fee, $24 will be returned to the conference. Funds from the project will go to help 10 community centers around the state. The council will review where the funds will be applied each year.

The Rev. Lovett Weems spoke on his "10 provocative questions" related to The United Methodist Church and focused primarily on question No. 8: "Can the church change to reach more people, younger people and more diverse people?" A Mississippi native, Weems is distinguished professor of church leadership and executive director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. He developed his questions in a report commissioned by the Council of Bishops based on the denomination's State of the Church report.

Weems said one of the keys to growing churches is to connect with the community. "I encourage you to go back to your communities and get in touch with the community," he said. "The longer a church is in existence, the more it loses touch with the community. Go back and fall in love with your community again."

Other speakers included Bishop William Hutchinson of the Louisiana Area and seminary student Theon Johnson III.

Annual conference members packed 101,152 food packages for Stop Hunger Now and its Operation Sharehouse. The goal had been 100,000 packages, and the total was reached a day early.

Membership stands at 184,453, down 1,755 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 74,135, down 616. Church school attendance stands at 38,511, down 1,276.

-Woody Woodrick