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2009 Mississippi Annual Conference

Mississippi Annual Conference
June 12-14, 2009, Jackson, Miss.

"Shining Light, Open Doors" was the theme of the 21st session of the Mississippi Annual Conference that met at the Jackson Convention Complex. Bishop Hope Morgan Ward presided over the session.

"The Mississippi Conference celebrated 10,000 doors as local churches brought doors of all types decorated to embody their ministry," said Ward. "Two hundred doors formed a circle of creativity around the conference and the stage area was transformed by doors, including a communion table made of doors. The invitation throughout the conference was to open the doors of our hearts to God and to open the doors of our churches to the world in mission and ministry."

The Rev. Rudy Rasmus, pastor of St. John's United Methodist Church in downtown Houston, Texas and Chris Lahr, director of Mission Year, headquartered in Atlanta served as guest speakers. The two, along with author Steve Sjogren came a day early to lead Trans4mation, an inspirational pre-conference workshop designed to strengthen ministry and mission in the conference's communities.

Conference attendees were energized and blessed with several performances by the Hope for Africa Children's Choir. Their witness in song highlighted the event. "It's contagious; what they bring to worship and praise is contagious," said the Rev. Joe May, chairperson of the conference planning committee.

The children's choir led a spirited processional down the aisle for the evening worship on June 12 and was joined by gospel singer Brian Courtney Wilson, a guest of the Rev. Rasmus. Preaching from John 5:1-9, Rasmus led a spirit-filled celebration of the healing touch of God on lives of people and on the church.

High energy and an outpouring of love through gifts in a mission offering highlighted the June 13 service, led by youth with the message presented by Lahr. An all student dance team from Delta State University and the Junior High Praise Band from Jackson's Christ United Methodist Church provided musical leadership throughout worship. Lahr's message focused on the need that all have to be in relationship with one another, living as a community.

Volunteers and delegates were given an opportunity to participate in mission before and during conference through the Society of St. Andrew and Stop Hunger Now. Mississippi farmers opened their fields to allow Society of St. Andrew volunteers to glean fresh produce that was brought to the convention complex where more than 100 volunteers packaged and made ready for distribution 225,000 servings for the needy in Mississippi. More than 300 volunteers packaged 125,340 meals in less than 16 hours for Stop Hunger Now and $31,000 was raised to buy the rice, beans, vitamins and minerals that go into the meals. In addition, more than $108,000 was raised to share between the two organizations.

In other offerings for mission and ministry, $8,130 was raised for Nothing But Nets, $2,258 for Hope for Africa Children's Choir, and $6,672 for the Ministerial Education Fund.

After hearing reports from the many ministry groups, members approved an apportioned budget of $20,671,993 for 2010, down from the $20,880,251 funding plan for 2009.

Conference members also voted to pass five of the 32 General Conference Amendments. Passing were Amendments 2, 8, 9, 19 and 22. Also approved was a plan to move forward to full direct billing for clergy insurance and pensions.

The conference celebrated starting nine new congregations, honored the ministry of 21 retiring clergy and spouses and celebrated the lives of clergy and spouses who have died since the 2008 conference.

The closing service honored all in ministry, clergy and laity. A host of vested clergy opened the ordering of ministry service, which included recognition of those licensed to preach, those being commissioned and the ordination service. Nineteen people were licensed for pastoral ministry, two as associate members, 13 commissioned as provisional members, one ordained as deacon, nine as elders, and one with recognition of orders.

This was the first year for the conference to be held over a weekend. Attendance was more than 2000 strong through the close of the event.

Membership stands at 183,661 down 792. Worship attendance stands at 72,995 down 1,140.

--Lisa Cumbest Michiels