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2008 New England Annual Conference

June 13-15, 2008, Wenham, Mass.

The New England Annual Conference met in holy conferencing at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., following a clergy session the previous evening. The theme of "Living the NET-Work" was woven through the three-day gathering as more than 1,000 clergy and lay representatives from around the conference shared in worship, business, fellowship, learning and inspiration.

Emphasizing the theme in the opening session, Bishop Peter Weaver called on conference members to recognize the joy of the United Methodist "connection" with each other and with the world. He began with a simple hand signal, making a cross with his index fingers and then connecting all his fingers, representing the church and all the people-"our connection," he said. "It's a living network of faith &ellipsis; nets connecting us around our communities and around the world ... like the (fishing) nets being made in Angola that some in this conference connected with this January." Then, showing slides of that mission journey, the bishop urged the conference to "allow your spirit to be drawn into connection, networking with God's people."

The Rev. Barbara Lemmel, conference minister of the Troy Annual Conference for seven years, was keynote speaker and spoke about the church as a family system. She drew the connections between family systems and congregations because the church is a family, and described how pastors and other church leaders can learn from family systems theory to help their churches foster healthy relationships. "Don't be afraid to have an adventure," she said. Lemmel said achieving healthy relationships might mean changing. However, working together toward a common exciting goal can motivate all in the 'family.' Congregations can work through change in healthy ways "as long as we remember who we are, and whose we are. We belong to God," she said.

Highlights of the annual conference session include:

  • The Denman Evangelism Award was presented to layperson Clint Brake of the Hillsboro (N.H.) United MethodistChurch. He was recognized for his passion for music and for sharing it to present the Good News of Christ and to raise money for those in need. The clergy award was presented to the Rev. Ellen Beairsto of Vanceboro, Maine.
  • The Social Justice Award was given to Rosa Capella, 83, for her works of mercy and for social change. The Kim Jefferson Urban Ministry award was given to the Rev. Donald J. Rudalevige, a long-time urban practitioner.
  • Bishop Weaver led a celebratory memorial service as the conference honored clergy, local pastors, spouses and lay members who died this past year. He talked of "lives of consequence" and the impact of each person.
  • Sixteen elders and local pastors were recognized for their new lives as retirees. A number of the retirees offered reflections, ranging from moving stories to lighter vignettes about living in faith and service to Christ.
  • Ziegler Preaching Award winner Eric Dupee challenged conference members to "imagine what our ministry could be like if we put aside our perfectly crafted mission statements and just focused on loving God and loving others."
  • The conference celebrated the success of the "Together for Tomorrow" capital campaign, with more than $6.3 million received to date. Local churches have received more than $2.2 million of those funds for new and creative ministries, while the balance will fund a variety of mission and ministry efforts in the conference and beyond in the areas of congregational development, camps and retreat ministries, pastoral retirement, and support for the international covenants of the conference with West Angola and Nicaragua.
  • Eight people were ordained elders, one was received into full connection, and five were commissioned as elders. During the ordination service, $3,358 was received for the bishop's discretionary fund. Other offerings included $2,918 for medical costs for an uninsured pastor, $3,523 for youth ministries, and $34,059 for the Nothing But Nets initiative, all totaling more than $43,859.

In business, the conference:

  • Approved a budget of more than $6.5 million, including more than $1.6 million for the general church and world missions;
  • Affirmed its focus on fulfilling the Global Aids Fund commitment of $1 per member by the end of 2008;
  • Endorsed two episcopal nominees: the Rev. Aida Irizarry Fernandez and Linda Campbell-Marshall;
  • Approved 16 resolutions including one extending hospitality and welcome to Vermont churches in the event that the Northeast Jurisdictional Conference approves the merger of Troy, North Central New York, Western New York and Wyoming conferences. Other resolutions declare solidarity with undocumented immigrants; call on New England United Methodists to work toward eliminating the world's adoption/orphan crisis; address issues of white privilege and racism; and affirm and encourage evangelism as a high priority in the conference's local churches

Membership in the New England Conference stands at 90,974, down 2,484 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at32,232, down 536. Church school attendance stands at8,428, down 638.

Additional information and news from the 2008 session can be found at www.neumc.org/ac08news.

--Alexx Wood