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2011 West Michigan Annual Conference

West Michigan Annual Conference
June 1-4, 2011, Grand Rapids

Opening the 43rd Session of the West Michigan Annual Conference, Michigan Area Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton called upon the members to "feed both the body and spiritual needs of a hungry world!"

The theme of the conference was "Take My Hand: engaging in ministry with the poor," and during the four days, members were inspired to make love offerings of $41,614.53 for mission and ministry.

"Miracle Saturday" was a highlight of the conference, with many churches sending 12 or more disciples to attend the final day of annual conference. Nearly 2,000 people packed the arena to hear Rudy Rasmus, co-pastor of St. John's Church in downtown Houston, remind us,"Love is as love does," as we seek to reach the 294 million in the United States who don't go to church. His phrase, "I love you and you can't do anything about it," was often repeated throughout the weekend.

Rasmus was followed by Thomas Kemper, general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries, who presented the keynote address and announced the launch of the new initiative MinistryWith.org.

Guest pastors included Kalamazoo Wesley Pastor Lisa Batten, who urged members to stop and be silent to listen to God, and the Rev. Dr. Robert Mayo, Grand Traverse District superintendent, who led a beautiful Memorial Service for 32 departed souls whose gifts contributed to the conference. Finally, on Friday evening, Bishop Keaton provided a powerful worship service to ordain three full elders (average age 51), two deacons and five commissioned probationary elders.

It was a week to celebrate giving. The floor of annual conference erupted into applause and cheers on Thursday when the Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey, head of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, announced the West Michigan Conference was ranked as the world's leading financial per-capita contributor to the Advance, with contributions of more than $25 per person.

On Friday, Dr. Jim Salley, Africa University director of development, praised the conference for its covenant to raise $500,000 for a hospitality center at the university in Zimbabwe. Salley was joined by Eric Mulanda, a theology student attending Africa University from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mulanda shared, "I am a product of your investment," noting that he got his call to ministry at Africa University. "Now here I am, praising God with you!"

Annual conference also included hours of debate and legislation. Actions taken included the passage of the following motions and items:
Item 1: Plan of Organization with amendments/deletions
Item 2: Conference Disaster Plan
Item 3: Emergency Preparedness name change
Item 4: Immigration Reform Campaign
Item 6: Clergy travel reimbursement as amended for 2013
Item 7: Naming Church and Society coordinators at the local church
Item 8: District Superintendent compensation standards
Item 9: Clergy minimum salary support
Item 10: Equitable compensation support
Item 11: MRPF/Pension Fund for past service
Item 12: Annual Policy Recommendations as amended
Item 13R: 2012 budget
Motion 15: Provides the conference chancellor with both voice and vote at annual conference
Motion 17: Extends lay delegate voting rights from two to four years
Motion 18: Allowing for the posting of lay and clergy contact information on the conference website.

The following General Conference Items were approved:
GC102: Peace with Justice Offering
GC103: Episcopal tenure
GC106: Remove condemnatory language
GC103: Episcopal tenure
GC106: Remove condemnatory language

In other actions, Laura Witkowski and Joyce Showerman were elected as conference facilitators and Dale Kimball, chairperson of the Council on Finance and Administration, provided the Preliminary Budget Report of 2011, which includes a 3 percent reduction from the previous year.

Lay delegates elected to General Conference include Laurie Dahlman, Kalamazoo; Nichea VerVeer Guy and Valerie Mossman-Celstin, both from Grand Rapids. Clergy delegates elected: Laurie Haller, Grand Rapids District superintendent (chairperson of the delegation), Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, East Lansing, and Benton Heisler, director of connectional ministry, Grand Rapids.

Lay delegates elected to the North Central Jurisdictional Conference include Steve Lett, Laingsburg; Ryan Minier, Kalamazoo; and Diane Allarding, Mason. Clergy delegates elected:John Boley, Kalamazoo; Neil Davis, Kalamazoo; and Mary Ivanov, Cedar Springs.

Membership stands at 62,949, down 1,479 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 36,987, down 330. Church school attendance stands at 10,094, down 437.

--Mark Doyal, director of communications