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2012 Arkansas Annual Conference

Arkansas Annual Conference
June 10-13, 2012, Fort Smith, Ark.

Videos: Arkansas Annual Conference

The 10th session of the Arkansas Annual Conference gathered in Fort Smith, Ark., from June 10-13, 2012. Bishop Charles Crutchfield presided over his final annual conference session before his retirement.

The Rev. Andrew Thompson, Wesley scholar for the Arkansas Annual (regional) Conference and instructor of historical theology and Wesleyan studies at Memphis Theological Seminary, served as the preacher for the Sunday, June 10, and Monday, June 11, night worship services, carrying forward the theme of the gathering, "Holiness of Heart and Life."

Twelve people were ordained at the Tuesday, June 12, evening service of commissioning and ordination, two as deacons and 10 as elders. The average age of the ordinands was 45.5. Six individuals were commissioned as provisional elders. Twenty-nine retiring clergy were recognized during a service on the previous day; those retirees held a combined total of more than 708 years of service.

In business sessions, the conference addressed several issues with financial implications.

A task force formed last year to study alternatives to the current apportionment formula offered a report at this session. The group will continue to meet this fall and plan to hold regional meetings next spring in the lead-up to the 2013 annual conference. The group's current focus is on moving from an expense-based formula to an income-based formula, a method used by several other conferences.

Conference members voted by a wide margin to begin the process of billing churches directly for the cost of their pastors' pension funding, rather than having the cost built into apportionments. The plan will increase direct billing by 25 percent per year until churches pay their pastors' full pension beginning in 2016. While this move will lower apportionments for all churches, some churches will see an overall increase in expenses when billed for the full amount of their pastor's pension.

The conference also voted to change how healthcare premiums are calculated for retired clergy. Beginning in January 2013, all retirees will pay an additional 10 percent of the cost for their own healthcare premiums. Currently, the Conference covers the entire premium for many retired clergy.

In structural changes, two financially interrelated concerns, pension and healthcare, joined to form a single committee to handle decisions on benefits and the ways to fund those benefits.

Other structural changes included the adoption of a new conference staffing model, a new configuration of the extended cabinet and the naming of an executive team for personnel oversight - all resulting from the three-year Imagine Ministry re-visioning process. The conference budget shifted to reflect the new structure. The connectional ministries budgeted amounts now list the expected apportionment payout, rather than a higher number with the caveat that ministries should expect to receive about 84 percent of the total. If apportionment payouts exceed the estimates, committees relating to the various ministry areas will allocate the additional funding.

The conference spent Monday afternoon engaged in various mission projects, both on- and off-site. Stop Hunger Now facilitated the conference's packaging of more than 40,000 meals, and a group of about three dozen participants learned how knitting hats, prayer shawls and more can provide meaningful and much-needed ministries. Other mission projects put attendees out in the community for tasks such as graffiti removal, visits to assisted living facilities and helping out at food banks and clothes closets.

The official launch of a conference-wide Imagine No Malaria fundraising initiative included an invitation to text "malaria" to 27722 to make $10 gifts from the floor of annual conference; a challenge grant from the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas that will match individuals' donations, up to $333,000; multiple gifts made in honor of Bishop Charles and Karen Crutchfield; and the first official gifts, given by 8-month-old Natalie Williams, who gave $10 for each month of her age, and Black Methodists for Church Renewal, which gave $500.

Five resolutions came before the conference, and all five received approval, some with no changes, and others as amended. Resolution topics included:

  • the importance of creating and enhancing a culture of stewardship and generosity in local churches;

  • a commitment to approach with respect and humility the differences faithful United Methodists have concerning the issue of homosexuality;

  • encouraging a series of sacred conversations about human sexuality, with a theologically diverse task force to be named by the bishop to develop a curriculum to guide these conversations;

  • deploring and condemning the act of bullying; and

  • imploring United Methodists to decline signing petitions that would bring more forms of legalized gambling up for a vote in Arkansas, and requesting that United Methodists support the efforts of the Stop Casinos Now Committee.

Membership stands at 135,579, down 0.08 percent from the previous year, when it stood at 135,682. Worship attendance stands at 52,658, down 2.5 percent from the previous year, when it stood at 54,008. Church school attendance stands at 23,098, down 1.37 percent from the 2010 figure of 23,420.

- Amy Forbus, editor of the Arkansas United Methodist