2009 New York Annual Conference
New York Annual Conference
June 10-13, 2009, Hempstead, N.Y.
When the clergy and laity of the New York Annual Conference gathered at Hofstra University, resident Bishop Jeremiah Park invited them to join him in a transformative journey befitting the theme, "For Such a Time as This: We Are A Beloved Community of Hope." In his episcopal message, the bishop pointed out several things that give him hope: a growing commitment to Volunteers in Mission, 100 churches in the Natural Church Development process, a new church start and a new church charter, participation in the Rethink Church launch, generous donations to the Bishop's Partners in Mission fund and the payment of 100 percent of the conference's apportionments for the fifth year in a row. This year's theme is an ongoing exploration of the conference's vision statement.
In his continuing mission to fill the Hofstra Arena with United Methodists, the bishop announced that all those who have joined United Methodist churches since he became bishop (2004) will be invited to conference next year. "Next year we are going to fill this place with 5,000 people 5,000 witnesses for Christ," Park said.
Featured speaker, Erin Hawkins, who is top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race, continued the focus on the beloved community by stressing how vital hope is in our world. She stressed four points: the need to realize that every person and every issue counts; reclaiming courage in the face of adversity; understanding that healing builds community and the ability to take on the tough issues in a spirit of hope in order to move people to action.
Tackling divisive issues with hope and love was the focus of a 90-minute session on June 12 that was set aside for a thoughtful dialogue on the topic of human sexuality. The intention was to humanize what the debate so that it can change the way the conference dialogues, and to create space for God to work in the hearts of conference members.
The dialogue, which was framed throughout by prayer and singing, provided opportunities for both the sharing of personal stories and the sharing of insights. After presentations from what were dubbed the "evangelical" and "progressive" sides, the process turned to conservations in gathered groups of four or five on the arena floor. The bishop invited everyone to share their stories with one another, speaking directly to how they have been affected by the issue.
After several minutes, the body was invited to share insights from the experience. While the differences remained, those who spoke expressed gratitude for the experience and suggested repeating the model at conference.
The conference was blessed by the presentations of the husband-wife team of the Rev. Kwasi Kena and the Rev. Safiyah Fosua, both of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship. Fosua, the director of invitational preaching, led a three-day Bible study on Esther focused on accepting God's call to be a voice for change. Hundreds of lay speakers attended a special two-day evangelism workshop with Kena, who is director of Evangelism Ministries. The event culminated in an exciting service on June 13 with more than 650 lay speakers in attendance.
Other highlights of conference included:
- The welcoming of new ministers: Three were presented with the license for pastoral ministry, two received professional certification, 11 were commissioned as provisional elders and two as provisional deacons, and nine were ordained as elders in full connection.
- The honoring of 13 retiring clergy members who have served for a total of 352 years.
- A celebration of the 315 people from 29 churches who have served as Volunteers in Mission during the last year. Bishop Joaquina Nhanala of the Mozambique Area, the first woman United Methodist bishop in Africa, spoke during the celebration.
- Celebrations for New Day United Methodist Church in the Bronx, which is a new church start, and for the chartering of the Tian Fu church in Brooklyn;
- A rousing message from Bishop Richard Wilke, co-author and developer of the Disciple Bible study program, during the ordination service.
- A memorial service honoring the passing of 22 members of the clergy, their spouses and children. Conference Treasurer Ernest Swiggett delivered an inspiring sermon.
- Approval of a 2010 conference budget of $9,060,238, which is reduction of about one percent from last year.
- Voting on the 32 amendments to the Constitution, in which amendment 15 was not passed and amendment 6 did not pass by a two-thirds majority vote.
- Presentation of the Henry Denman Award for Evangelism to layperson, Eunice Kirpatrick, and to the Rev. Steven Bauman.
- Offerings totaling nearly $40,000 were collected to support Personal Energy Transportation, Women's Advocacy Ministries, the Black College Fund, and the Bishop's Partners in Mission.
Membership in conference churches stands at 118,367, down 2,037 from 2007; worship attendance is 36,730, down 715; Sunday School attendance is 11,345, down 673; and 1,848 were baptized, which is up by 33.
- Joanne S. Utley