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2008 North Texas Annual Conference

June 8-11, 2008, Plano, Texas

The 142nd North Texas Annual Conference met with Bishop Alfred L. Norris presiding. The theme for the conference was "Our Hope is Built."

Conference members celebrated the ministry of Bishop Norris, who came out of retirement to serve the area following the 2006 death of Bishop Rhymes H. Moncure Jr.

A conference high point came during the June 9 Africa celebration and worship at HamiltonParkUnitedMethodistChurch, Dallas. The Rev. Tyrone Gordon, pastor of St. Luke "Community" United Methodist Church, Dallas, and Lisa Tichenor, Highland ParkUnitedMethodistChurch, Dallas, presented a $500,000 check to James Salley, AfricaUniversity vice president and director of development, to cover the cost of building a new health center facility at the United Methodist university in Old Mutare, Zimbabwe.

Bishop Norris challenged the conference to raise $1 million for the AfricaUniversity health center and scholarships in the school of health science. The conference learned that there is already some $300,000 in commitments for the scholarship portion, and the goal is expected to be reached.

Construction on the center is to begin immediately. Salley indicated the university has pledged to create a plaque to hang in the new structure recognizing the conference's generosity, honoring Bishop Norris and his wife, Dr. Mackie Norris, and the late Bishop Moncure and his wife, Jewell Moncure.Bishop Norris was the preacher for the celebration, taking his text from Isaiah 35:1-2 and addressing the subject of "Blooming in the Desert." He described the conference's Lenten Study on AfricaUniversity, which played a key role in the campaign, as "bringing hope and healing to our brothers and sisters in Africa."

Bishop Scott Jameson Jones of the Kansas Area was preacher for the June 10 Service of Ordination at CusterRoadUnitedMethodistChurch, Plano. Bishop Jones, who was elected to the episcopacy from the North Texas Conference in 2004, preached on Deuteronomy 26:1-11 and emphasized leadership and vision, drawing on Wes Seeliger's images of "pioneer" and "settler" theology and concluding that to be successful, the church has to embrace both. Six new North Texas Conference elders were ordained during the service, and another elder was ordained as a courtesy for the West Angola Conference. One deacon was ordained.

The Rev. Felicia Hopkins, St. Marks United Methodist Church, El Paso, preached for the opening night service at FirstUnitedMethodistChurch, Richardson. She challenged the congregation, saying, "Jesus was never willing to leave things as he found them," and she called for action and the realization that the ability to change is vital to the church's hope. The "emergent-style" service included music by local church praise bands and the commissioning of Project Transformation and Connect 2 the Kingdom interns, all of whom will be serving in urban neighborhoods during the summer. Bishop Norris remarked that of the 500 interns who have served in the past 10 years, some 39 have followed the call to seminary.

The Service of Commissioning was held at the opening of the June 9 business session at Plano Centre.

Eleven individuals, including nine elder track and two deacon track candidates, were commissioned, and an additional ordained individual from another denomination was accepted into probationary membership. Eleven clergy retired in 2008, representing a total of 247 years of service.

In his final address to the conference, Lay Leader Billy Ratcliff stressed abundance, lifting up AfricaUniversity as a good example of shared abundance. He challenged the conference to meet the needs of the inner city and cited new conference Lay Leader Richard Hearne and Leader-elect Linda Parks as evidence that North Texas' new bishop will have strong lay leadership.

A $2.6 million trust-fund gift for clergy pensions was made from the Pierce M. Williamson and Jeanette G. Williamson Trust, in memory of Regina K. Nadolny, mother of Mrs. Williamson. It was instrumental in allowing the conference to retire unfunded pension liability and will allow for the completion of funding the retiree liability within approximately 10 years. The gift was also key in the reduction of 2009 apportionments by 7.7 percent.At the same time, additional funds were provided for new church starts and conference programming, which together received an increase of $524,143. The conference followed the recommendation of the council on finance and administration in approving a total 2009 budget of $11,545,486.

Mary Brooke Casad, executive secretary of the United Methodist Connectional Table and leader of the 2008 General and Jurisdictional Conference delegation, and clergy delegation leader the Rev. Kathleen Baskin-Ball presented the report on General Conference. Conference members also endorsed the Rev. Jim Dorff, area provost, as a candidate for the episcopacy at the upcoming South Central Jurisdictional Conference.

The conference approved a number of resolutions, including one presented by the Accountability Group, Anti-Racism Team and Hispanic/Latino Ministry Task Force highlighting the harmful nature of the current hostile environment in the United States toward Hispanic/Latino Americans and other immigrant groups. Members also approved a resolution recommending that 20 percent of clergy leadership be literate in conversational Spanish by 2020 and another resolution with recommendations for local churches from the Safe Sanctuaries Task Force.

The report of the statistician indicated total membership for 2007 at 158,712, a decrease of 778 or 0.5 percent; average worship attendance at 61,626, a decrease of 270, or 0.4 percent; Sunday school attendance at 32,537, or 1.2 percent; and new members received at 8,916, a drop of 8.9 percent from the previous year. The latter number includes 3,253 professions of faith. Grand total paid to all causes increased to $141,536,935, or 3.6 percent.

--Joan G. LaBarr