2011 Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference
"Connect as One through Radical Hospitality" was the theme of the 227th session of the Baltimore-Washington conference, which met May 26-28 in Baltimore. This theme continues the conference's emphasis on "the discipleship adventure,"which calls all congregations to celebrate through passionate worship; connect as one through radical hospitality; develop through intentional faith formation; serve like Christ through risk-taking mission; and share faith extravagantly.
In keeping with the theme of connecting as one through radical hospitality, Bishop John Schol spoke about the adaptive spiritual challenge of connecting with the non- and nominally religious people in our communities. As a follow-up, he made a video and podcast of a conversation with his daughter, one of the nominally religious in our community, which has become one the most viewed features ever on the conference website at www.bwcumc.org/ministries/connecting/rebecca.
In his address, the bishop highlighted the denomination's Call to Action when hesaid, "For times such as this, in a world besieged by war and poverty, environmental calamity and economic uncertainty, hunger and conflict and, yes, in places, even hopelessness God calls us to be forward-leaning people. We are not to turn away from the fierce oncoming wind. God's challenge to us as the people of The United Methodist Church is to lean into it." The bishop called the conference to meet the adaptive spiritual challenges of the Church a lack of trust at all levels of the church, a fear of metrics/goals, the need for more turnaround leaders, an ability to connect with the people in our community and a call to grow more vital congregations. "It requires us to recommit to the Gospel's challenge to love our neighbor, particularly the new neighbors moving into our communities who are not like us," Bishop Schol said. "We are charged to make disciples of Jesus Christ of our new neighbors. How do we do it?By extending to them the radical hospitality of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has extended grace to us and expects us to extend grace to others."
That forward-leaning leadership was reflected throughout the conference in numerous ways. Among the highlights of the three-day session was the ordination service, in which seven people were ordained as elders, three were commissioned as provisional deacons and 14 were commissioned as provisional elders. The service was held at Lovely Lane UMC, the mother church of Methodism. Ordinands took their vows under a dome on which stars were painted in the exact formation in which they hung in the sky on the night of the Christmas Conference in 1784, when Methodism was officially begun in the New World.
Other highlights included:
- A dramatic, impromptu altar call following Bishop John Schol's State of the Church address, in which church leaders rededicated themselves to ministry.
- Presentations by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake and Marian Wright Edelman, founder and director of the Children's Defense Fund.
- Members collected more than $21,044 for homeless ministries in the conference and $58,866 to go to assist victims of earthquakes in Haiti and Japan and recent storms and flooding in the United States.
- The Council on Finance and Administration announced its commitment to reduce the benevolence factor over the years so that in 2016 it resembles a tithe, with churches paying 10 percent of their total income. An $18.5 million budget was adopted, and the benevolence factor for 2012 was decreased from 19.5 to 18 percent.
- In an integrated ministry and stewardship address, conference leaders outlined eight key goals to serve local churches, which include developing a comprehensive leadership training program, assisting in repurposing buildings for mission and ministry, enhancing the Gateway database system and planting 20 new congregations over the next 10 years.
- Betty S. Katiyo and Kennedy Mhondoro, lay leaders from Zimbabwe, shared news of the impact of the partnership between the Baltimore-Washington conference and United Methodists in Zimbabwe and blessed members with a rendition of "Amazing Grace," sung in Shona.
- At a service of transition, 28 clergy retirees, collectively representing 689 years of service, were honored.
Members voted to refer 5 petitions to the 2012 General Conference, including a resolution that gives pastors the right to determine if a same-gender marriage or civil union may be held in their church in civil jurisdictions where such unions are allowed; a resolution calling for the denomination "to end its financial involvement in Israel's occupation by divesting from companies that sustain the occupation"; and a resolution to remove from the Discipline the statement that "The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching."
For the first time, electronic balloting was used to elect delegates to the General and Jurisdictional conferences. Lay delegates elected to General Conference were: Tom Price, Sandy Ferguson, Darius Butler, Melissa Lauber, Edith Williams, Charlie Moore and Jen Ihlo. Clergy delegates were: T.R. Chattin, Laura Easto, Conrad Link, Rodney Smothers, J.W. Park, Joe Daniels and Joan Carter-Rimbach. Lay delegates elected to General Conference were: Darlynn McCrae, Michael Parker, Chris Schlieckert, Delores Martin, David Hosey, Sylvia Simpson and Ralph Williams. Clergy delegates were: Chris Holmes, Ianther Mills, Joye Jones, Mary Kay Totty, Victoria Starnes, Rod Miller and Evan Young.
Membership stands at 181,940, down 3,146 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 66,942, down 1,508. Church school attendance stands at 19,437, down approximately 1,303.