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2010 New York Annual Conference

New York Annual Conference
June 9-12, 2010, Hofstra, N.Y.

With the question, "Are you ready?" Bishop Jeremiah J. Park opened the 211th session of the New York Annual Conference at Hofstra University Arena. The theme for the June 9-12 gathering, "For Such a Time as This: We Are Building Up a Healthy Body of Christ," is an ongoing exploration of the conference's vision statement.

In his episcopal address, the bishop struck a prophetic tone by insisting that what the church needs is "urgent, trusting and radical change." Hard choices will need to be made. We can't keep doing the same things in our attempts to make disciples for Christ. "Change is coming, change is evitable," Park said.

Park looked to John 15 for three words fruit, abide and love that can inspire the change that needs to come in the church. He urged the gathering to "rebuild our connection with Christ" by choosing to abide in him. Our life as Christians is all about Jesus Christ and his love. "We've been chosen by Jesus Christ to go and bear fruit," Park said. "It is a privilege and joy, not a burden." We must revive love and joy in our churches, otherwise "what's the point?"

The bishop reported that despite the difficult financial climate, more churches had honored 100 percent of their shared ministry apportionments than in 2008, allowing the conference to fulfill 100 percent of its General Church apportionments for the sixth year in a row. Average Sunday worship attendance also increased, as did the number of members who joined by profession of faith.

Park also announced that the conference has committed to create 30 new faith communities in the next three years. Six will be started in 2010, 12 in 2011 and another 12 in 2012. The new starts this year range from urban foreign-language congregations to a rural trailer park community.

"We are destined to be a growing church again," Park said. Referring to Isaiah 43, he asked, "Are we ready to do God's new thing?

Bishop James E. Swanson Sr. of the Holston Area was the guest preacher for the combined commissioning and ordination service. With a powerful combination of humor, directness about God's call, and a bold voice, Swanson brought the crowd to it feet numerous times. He urged all to listen for the consistent call of God. "We are all commissioned to carry the Good News to a bad news world," he said.

He advised the candidates to trust in God and to put their lives in Jesus' hands; "God would make a way. . . You'll set New York Annual Conference on fire!" Retired United Methodist Bishops Alfred Johnson and F. Herbert Skeete, as well as ELCA Bishop Robert J. Rimbo of the Metropolitan New York Synod, participated in the commissionings and ordinations.

The "healthy body of Christ" was evident in the more than 5,000 adults and children who came to Saturday's "Momentum of Ministry" festival, which began with interactive events in three tents outside the arena. The attendance exceeded Park's 2009 challenge to fill the arena with 5,000 new witnesses for Christ. He had invited all those who had become church members since 2004, the year he began his episcopacy and they came by busload, by carpool and by commuter train.

The churches processed under an explosion of colorful banners into the arena, where they were engaged and energized by Swanson's powerful preaching. Hundreds responded to his altar call and came forward to commit their lives and their work to Christ. To emphasize the connection between spiritual and physical health, Park took off his jacket and dropped to the stage as the crowd enthusiastically counted out 120 pushups.

For the first time, the annual conference was telecast, via live Web streaming, enabling friends and family around the globe to witness the opening session, and the memorial, retirement and ordination/commissioning services.

Other highlights at conference included:

  • The welcoming of new ministers: Two persons were presented with the license for pastoral ministry, 12 were commissioned as provisional elders and one as an associate member, and nine were ordained as elders in full connection.

  • The honoring of 21 retiring clergy members, who had more than 400 years of combined service.

  • Remembering 27 clergy, clergy spouses and children of clergy who had passed away in the last year. District Superintendent Ken Kieffer offered a hope-filled message encouraging trust in a God who stands beside us.

  • Celebrating a life of service by Ernest L. Swiggett, who is retiring after 23 years as treasurer, director of administrative services and conference statistician.

  • Electing a new conference treasurer, Ross Williams.

  • The Rev.Vance Ross of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, who offered a special session for laity, as well as leading the morning Bible study based on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, entitled, "The Wealth in Health: Diversity, Inclusion, Unity."

  • An appearance by the Rev. Paul Gesner, president of the Methodist Church in Haiti, who addressed the immediate needs of his earthquake-ravaged country. The conference has donated nearly $500,000 to the United Methodist Committee on Relief for Haiti, and, over the next 10 months, will be sending one Volunteer in Mission team a month to the country.

  • The giving of $95,000 from the Bishop's Partners in Mission fund for mission trips to Haiti, Ghana, Mozambique, Cambodia, Bolivia, and Ecuador, and to the Women's Advocate Ministry and the Central Conference Pension Fund.

  • A celebration honoring all VIM teams, especially those who have been rebuilding in Biloxi, Miss., during the last five years.

  • The collection and/or assembling of more than 11,000 health kits for UMCOR.

  • Presentation of the Henry Denman Award for Evangelism to layperson, M.E. Solomon, and to the Rev. Darlene L. Kelley of Clinton Avenue UMC in Kingston, N.Y.

  • A prayer of gratitude for the outstanding ministry and leadership of the Rev. Maxine Beach, who is retiring after 10 years as dean of the Drew Theological School.
  • Offerings totaling $40,000, which were received for the Children's Home, the Black College Fund, the Bishop's Partners in Mission Fund and the Ministerial Education Fund.

  • Adoption of a 2011 expense budget of $9,678,558.00 (a 6.8 percent increase over 2010), which includes an apportionment budget of $8,594,558, a 1.3 percent increase.

  • Voted to approve four church mergers: Christ UMC and St. Luke's UMC to become New Rochelle UMC; South Third and Knickerbocker will join to become New Jerusalem UMC; South Middletown and Higganum to be known as Higganum UMC and Glendale and Maspeth to become Glendale Maspeth UMC.

Among legislation passed on consensus was a call for action on immigration reform, and support for a living wage campaign and global health initiative for mothers and babies, and a mandate to correct and republish past conference journals. Legislation approved by floor vote included the imperative to respond to hate crimes, a call for equality in ministry, and the request for a Judicial Council decision on the right of some clergy to marry. A petition asking that the conference apologize for the church's stance on homosexuality in advertisements was ruled out of order by Park.

Membership in conference churches stands at 115,813, a decrease of 2,782; average weekly Sunday School attendance was 10,707, down 638. But weekly worship attendance rose by 342 for a total of 37,072, and professions of faith increased by 53 to 2,328.

--Joanne Utley, Editor, The Vision