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2008 North Central New York Annual Conference

May 30-June 1, 2008, Liverpool, N.Y.

Retiring Bishop Violet Fisher exhorted God's people to embrace change as she brought her last episcopal address to United Methodists of the North Central New York Annual Conference as they met May 30-June 1 in Liverpool.

Referring to her inaugural address on "Moving Beyond the Edge," Bishop Fisher recounted how Moses led people of Israel through "threshold times" of fear and hopelessnessa task he was able to do because "he believed the promises of Yahweh.

"I challenge you to embrace a challenge of hope. Understand what it means, as a people of God, to make disciples of all people," she said. "God continues to do new things in the North Central New York Conference even as its people contemplate the changes that await them. God does not work alone, but God joins us in the work."

Bishop Fisher told the conference session that "all ministry is local," and she declared: "We are on the move as a conference, moving beyond the edge into possibilities." She added congratulations to all churches for paying their fair share to the General Church for the first time in 50 years.

Bishop Fisher will retire on Aug. 31, and the 200th session of the conference was filled with celebration of her ministry. During one worship service, the conference choir shared the selection "And What Now&ellipsis;" written in her honor by composer, arranger and director James Welsch. A retirement celebration included presentation of a gift of $18,000 from local churches for Bishop Fisher's special fund for work with children and young people, voices of the Stittville and Floyd United Methodist church choirs, interpretive dance of Devine Destiny Dance Ministries of Grace United Methodist Church, Rochester, the rendition of "Wind Beneath My Wings" sung by the Elder Cynthia Coleman, the bishop's niece, special videos, shared experiences, shared song and the anointing of Bishop Fisher.

Bishop Fisher's friend, sister in Christ, and colleague, the Rev. Alfreda L. Wiggins of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, brought a message of hope and challenge during one of the worship services. "Wherever the love of God is, there is hope!" she said.

Conference action included adopting a resolution to respond to discriminatory practices of Bennigan's Restaurant.

The Rev. Darryl Barrow, head of the North Central New York delegation to the 2008 United Methodist General Conference, said he experienced an act of racial discrimination at Bennigan's Restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas, while attending the denomination's top legislative meeting. This action was witnessed and experienced by the conference's delegates to General Conference. Bishop Fisher conferred with Bishop Linda Lee, president of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race, and formed a strategy that included letters to the restaurant's corporate offices and reminding the entire body present at General Conference that all are responsible for the pain of racism because it impacts more than the intended victim.

The commission responded by recommending in a letter that all Bennigan's "take seriously this case of discrimination." They "urged that racial sensitivity training be offered to their restaurant staff and offered the resources of The United Methodist Church to assist them through the General Commission of Religion and Race."

Members of the 2008 session of the NCNY Annual Conference affirmed the commission's recommendations and will send a letter to the Metromedia Restaurant Group family of restaurants (including Bennigan's) urging that they provide not only hospitality training for its restaurant workers but racial sensitivity training as part of its regular employee orientation work.

Delegates who witnessed the incident will join the efforts of the NCNY Conference Committee on Religion and Race and provide an enhanced racism workshop on how to recognize and respond to acts of racism. The conference also will ask the Troy, Wyoming and Western New York conferences to work toward establishing a full-time diversity officer position supporting the strategic plan critical area of racism.

Conference members passed a resolution seeking to actively work to keep Hebron Orphanages open. The conference will express its outcry at the Israeli invasion, destruction and theft of the properties of the Islamic Charitable Society in Hebron in the West Bank; ask congressional representatives to urge the U.S. State Department to pressure the Israeli Military Commander to rescind the order to close the orphanage, publicize their resolution and the orphanage situation in Hebron; call on churches to include the Hebron Orphanages in prayer concern time Sundays in June and future Sundays as the situation develops; and encourage establishing relationships between conference youth groups and the schools and orphanages threatened with closure.

In other actions, conference members affirmed a resolution authorizing the New ACT (Area Conference Team) to develop specific plans for creation of a new annual conference. That work begins if the July 2008 session of the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference approves the request from North Central New York, Troy, Western New York and Wyoming conferences to include all or portions of those conferences in a new conference. All four conferences have representation on the New ACT.

The team would develop a vision for the new area/conference, a plan of union, a proposed design to facilitate the union and a process to develop the necessary structure to support the vision and mission.

A Summary Report of The Futures Commission also was shared by Thomas Wolfe. The commission will continue to study the data, contribute the data to the discussion as a new conference boundary is created and share the data with the new episcopal leader after Sept. 1. The commission also will be prepared to make recommendations in keeping with its original charge.

The conference designated the last Sunday in October each year as Disability Awareness Sunday with a special offering. Funds received will be used to promote the creation of architectural and attitudinal accessibility in local churches.

In other actions, the conference:

  • Raised $9,000 to send two youth on the Mission of Peace;
  • Presented Denman Awards for work in evangelism to the Rev. Mary Drake serving Mannsville/Lorraine in the Northern Flow District and to Lorrie A. Spence of Clifton Springs United Methodist Church; and
  • Adopted a budget of $4,023,763 representing an overall 3 percent increase.

One deacon and seven elders were ordained, and six were commissioned.

Membership stands at 74,483, down 1,866 from the previous year. Average weekly worship attendance stands at 22,277, down 19 from the previous year.

Marilyn J. Kasperek