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2010 West Michigan Annual Conference

June 3-6, 2010, Grand Rapids, Mich.

The 42 Session of the West Michigan Conference of The United Methodist Church held its gathering on the campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, June 3-6. Over 400 congregations were represented by more than 900 clergy and laity and hundreds of additional viewers tuned in during the live webcast of the event.

The theme was "Making New Spaces for New Faces," the second of a four-year themed series focusing on the "4 Foci."Worship themes and the plenary stage incorporated the images of a "front porch and a family reunion."The Rev. Benton Heisler, director of connectional ministry, welcomed conference delegates by reminding them "the front porch represents both the gathering point for family and friends and the meeting space where new relationships are formed."

Bishop Jonathan Keaton recounted for the conference the value of "Life in Christian Community" as he preached in the opening worship.He called the conference to action, noting his personal commitment to stamping out Biblical illiteracy and calling attention to the absence of prayer as the single most critical cause of spiritual decline.

The keynote presenters were Donita Harris, John Edgar and George Howard from "The Church 4 All People," in Columbus, Ohio, who gave three presentations and a workshop on the "Free Store" ministry and how it became a worshiping community addressing health and housing issues. Conference members were inspired to go home and take the small steps that can move such a ministry forward in meeting each of the 4 Foci.They called upon the conference to risk engaging in authentic and genuine community by creating real relationships with the poor and those challenged in life.

President Gesner Paul of the Methodist Church in Haiti shared his vision of providing education for children as the means to move forward in Haiti. He also thanked the conference for the more than $614,000 given for Haiti relief this year thus far.Paul and Keaton blessed bicycle riders that are representing the 6 Districts of West Michigan and the Detroit Conference in a 6-day, 400 mile ride from the Indiana state line to the Mackinaw Bridge.Their goal is to raise $10,000 for relief and projects in Haiti. Information on the ride can be found at www.haitiride.org.

The Rev. Ed Taveirne of the Fenton United Methodist Church in the Detroit Conference was the conference preacher. Taverine challenged participants to "move beyond your fears of the unknown and embrace imagination in ministry.To have new spaces for new faces there is going to be some risk taking."

The conference approved a significantly revised Flexible Housing Policy and defeated proposals to move the annual conference session to various sites as-well-as a proposal to reduce the number of districts.

Amanda Mountain, representative of the Board of Global Ministries, presented Keaton with a plaque to the conference for having the highest percentage of churches giving to The Advance in the North Central Jurisdiction.The Conference donated $865,544 in 2009.That trend continued during Annual Conference, where seven special offerings were received during the weekend, totaling $36,239.46.The total included $900 for Nothing But Nets from the sale of a CD that Keaton recorded singing his favorite hymns and playing the piano.

The bishop ordained three elders and one deacon. The conference also remembered 29 pastors and laity who died this past year and honored 18 retiring pastors for their gift of service. Membership stands at 64,724, down 1,211 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 37,242, down 2,365. Church school attendance stands at 10,531, down 1,419. The conference approved a Budget for 2011 of $6,159,550.

Submitted by Mark Doyal, Director of Communications, West Michigan Conference.