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2008 West Ohio Annual Conference

June 9-12, 2008, Lakeside, Ohio

The 39th session of the West Ohio Annual Conference, presided over by Bishop Bruce R. Ough, was an experience in living "the United Methodist Way." Under the banner "Love First," members and guests were reminded that the core of Wesleyan theology is Jesus' great or first commandment to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself.

In his eighth Episcopal Address, Bishop Ough challenged members and guests to live the "Love First" theme, both during the conference and afterwards. "Throughout the four days of this conference session and beyond," said Ough, "let us hold fast to the words of I John: 'Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another&ellipsis;; if we love one another, God lives in us, and God's love is perfected in us.' (I John 4:11-12)"

Using the metaphor of an ever-flowing stream, Ough called the people of West Ohio to be the "irrigation system for God's love &ellipsis; the channels through which God's ever-flowing love is delivered to our neighbors, to our communities and to the world." He invited all annual conference members to sign a covenant card affirming their commitment to live the United Methodist way by promising to abide by three simple rules: do no harm, do good and love God.

Following the Episcopal Address, Bishop Rueben Job and Ough engaged in a question-and-answer session on Job's book The Three Simple Rules, which was distributed to all in attendance.

In keeping with the "Love First" theme, special guests Bishop William Willimon and the Rev. Rudy Rasmus contributed powerful presentations. Bishop Willimon led two worship services with his inspiring and often humorous messages on love and following Christ. Rasmus offered two personal and profound messages, asking at one point: "What are you waiting for?" and ending with an altar call for the standing-room-only crowd of more than 2,500.

The most dramatic and visible evidence of inspiring love came when the "Love First" miracle offering of more than $450,000 was presented by the churches of West Ohio to Bishop Ough for the Nothing But Nets anti-malaria campaign and the conference's Southeast Asia partnership. Missionaries Karen and Ut Vo To (Vietnam) and Nicholas and Esther Gitobu (Cambodia) expressed immense gratitude for how the offering will impact ministries in Southeast Asia.

Interspersed between activities and conference reports were a series of "ministry moments" videos that celebrated leaders, churches and ministries supported by and in partnership with the West Ohio conference. A ministry fair offered exhibits by churches and other ministries excelling at the core process and workshops led by Igniting Ministry, which announced a new four-year partnership with the conference.

In other business, members approved resolutions that:

  • Realigned the structure of the Conference Connectional Ministries Council to more effectively support the mission, vision and strategies of the conference;
  • Provided procedures that will allow healthy churches to remove the direct costs associated with the launch of a new church start or satellite from the amount used to calculate apportionments paid by the parent church;
  • Encouraged the conference, its churches and individuals to explore and take action to better care for the earth as an act of Christian discipleship. A second resolution empowered the Creation Care Task Force to advocate for energy reform legislation;
  • Called upon churches and church members to actively oppose any efforts to legalize gambling in Ohio and to offer radical hospitality to organizations offering support to people affected negatively by gambling;
  • Contributed $400,000 from the earnings on the 2007 pension reserve to the Central Conference Pension Initiative and agreed to do so for the next four years;
  • Asked West Ohio pastors, congregations, staff and members to refrain from judgment regarding homosexual persons and practices and study with open hearts and open minds materials available through Cokesbury on heterosexism and homophobia;
  • Offered a new conference vision/mission statement on diversity and inclusion;
  • Called upon U.S. and state officials to stop raids on illegal immigrants and work for comprehensive reform of immigration laws;
  • Encouraged all Christians to use faithful discernment in their television choices and to find effective ways to express concerns about programming to networks.

Bishop Ough ordained 12 elders and three deacons. He commissioned 14 probationary and two associate members and honored 45 retiring pastors. Bishop Job gave a moving apostolic charge to the conference's newly ordained clergy, encouraging them to "go where the wounds are &ellipsis; without fear &ellipsis; and with your loving presence, prophetic witness and pastoral care."

Conference membership stands at 218,794, down 5,548 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 119,061, down 3,819. The conference reported 37,698 in church school attendance, down 3,807 from the previous year.

-Lisa Streight