2008 Western New York Annual Conference
June 13-15, 2008, Buffalo, N.Y.
Bishop Violet L. Fisher told the United Methodists in the Western New York Conference not to focus on the economic decline but to embrace the future as a church of the future.
Giving her final episcopal address June 13, at the opening of the 199th session of the Western New York Annual Conference, Bishop Fisher reminded the members that God has promised a future with hope.
"You cannot despair! You cannot lose faith. God is calling you to advance beyond the edge," she told hundreds of church leaders.
"Your task is to be faithful, to be steady and persistent in proclaiming the new reality that only God can see at this time.
"Your task is to put structures we already have to use, to employ resources, to do our faith here, and live our faith here and share our faith here, and to nurture and feed spiritual life from here," she said.
Reminding the conference of how God delivered the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt through the desert into the Promised Land, she said the Israelites had to move beyond the desert into the land God had given them.
In the same manner, The United Methodist Church in Western New York must not teeter at the edge of the promised future but embrace the future of hope and transformation, she said.
"I won't get to the Promised Land with you but I will be praying for you, believing in your gifts of faithfulness and perseverance. I will be your encourager and I will hold you in my heart," she said.
Bishop Fisher, who is retiring this year, said she will offer her prayers from somewhere in Maryland or Delaware, where she plans to return in September.
From her time of election as bishop at 2:30 p.m. on July 13, 2000 to Aug. 31, 2008 when she retires, Bishop Fisher would have served 2,972 days, 71,337 hours and 4,279,720 minutes in the episcopal role.
The first ever African-American female bishop in the Northeast Jurisdiction and the episcopal area, Bishop Fisher urged the church to continue to celebrate what the church has accomplished in the eight years she has led the New York West Area, which includes North Central New York Annual Conference.
"God continues to do a new thing in us, with us, and in the midst of us, because we have offered ourselves to the movement of God's Spirit," she said. "God does not work alone but joins us in the work."
Emphasizing the key role of local churches, she told conference members that the local congregation is the body that lives and shares the faith, "for disciples are found in the community, not in isolation."
"Our God has promised us a future. Our God continues to offer us hope. Thanks be to God, we are no longer captive to our fears," she said.
Bishop Fisher assured those gathered that the "church is of God and will exist until the end of time," even though the church has been through difficult times.
"Yes, we have come this far by faith leaning on the Lord. Trusting in God's Holy Word. God has not failed us. Thanks be to our God."
Bishop Fisher will retire Aug. 31.This 199th session of the Western New York Annual Conference was filled with celebration of her ministry.Special music, liturgical dance, testimonies, letters and proclamations, as well as gifts of gratitude were shared.Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown proclaimed June 14 as Bishop Violet L. Fisher Day in the city.
Dr. Susan Johnson Cook's message during Friday evening's worship was enthusiastically received.
Conference members authorized the New Area/Conference Team (New ACT) to develop a vision for a new area conference in union with North Central New York, Troy and Wyoming conferences.
Subject to action taken by the Northeastern Jurisdiction in July, the resolution authorizes the new team to plan for the union of the new conference in 2010 and for a proposed design to facilitate the initial union of the conferences, and a process to develop the necessary structure, which will support the vision and mission of the new area/conference.
The conference passed resolutions setting a distribution formula for proceeds from the sale of closed churches, including funds for new church development; authorizing sale of a parcel at Camp Asbury; encouraging churches to adopt Safe Sanctuaries policies; revising the Strategic Action Plan; endorsing a New Faith Venture Initiative calling for the establishment of a minimum of one new faith venture in each local church in the period of Jan 1, 2008, to June 1, 2009; affirming an annual special offering to support the Africa University Scholarship Fund established last year; establishing an annual special offering on the Sunday prior to Feb. 14 for new church starts as an act of love for non-churched people of the area; designating the third Sunday of September for Hispanic awarenesswith a focus on Hispanic culture, ministries and potential ministries in Western New York; adopting a plan for starting Hispanic ministries in Western New York; adopting statements of relationships with Gateway-Longview and the Wesley Community; continuing an intentional relationship of mutual encouragement between the Western New York and North Katanga annual conferences of The United Methodist Church;re-electing Barbara Gasiewicz, the conference treasurer and director of administrative services, for another four years; adopting a budget of $3,201,093 for the 2009 fiscal year, representing a 0.29 percent decrease from $3,210,494 for 2008.
A commitment to pay 100 percent of World Service askings in 2009 drew overwhelming support from conference members.
Nearly $30,000 in special offerings were received during the annual conference session, including $2,711 for the Louisiana Conference, $3,378 for The Episcopal Special Needs Fund, $8,558.86 for the North Katanga Conference, and $3,406.55 for Older Adult Ministries and Camp Scholarships; and $1,195 was raised for the Youth Service Fund. Other funds were given for shipping of health kits, Hispanic ministry and pensions in the central conferences.
The Denman Award for Laity, honoring work in evangelism, was presented to Harry Loomis; a Conference Board of Laity Award for Excellence in Lay Ministry was given to Barbara Saltarella of the Williamsville United Methodist Church for service to Christ and The United Methodist Church; and the Kim Jefferson Award for Effective Urban Ministry was given to West Avenue United Methodist Church in Rochester, N.Y.
The conference board of higher education and campus ministry granted two Merit Scholarship awards for 2008, one to David LeValley and the second to Tasha Wiltberger.
Three elders were ordained and five were commissioned.
Membership stands at 55,659, down 320 from the previous year. Average weekly worship attendance stands at 20,268, down 832 from the previous years. Average weekly church school attendance stands at 6,791.
--Marilyn J. Kasperek and Maidstone Mulenga