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2012 Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference

Baltimore-Washington Conference
May 30-June 1, Baltimore

With hands, hearts and voices that have upheld and nurtured the Word of God for 228 years, members of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference reached out to claim a new generation of believers at their annual session May 30June 1.

Meeting at the Waterfront Marriott Hotel in Baltimore, the 631 clergy and 604 lay members gathered for holy conferencing and revival as the church conducted its business, set a vision for the future, worshipped, prayed and learned together.

In his episcopal address on the state of the church, Bishop John Schol discussed some of the myths about the closing of churches, homosexuality and the state of the church in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, which is "forward-leaning." With candor, the bishop acknowledged that he is not a biblical literalist and believes "gay and lesbian people are children of God, loved by God and saved through the love of Jesus Christ." He also said, "The world did not say about the early Christians, 'See how they agree with one another,' the world said: 'See how they love one another,' &ellipsis; I want non- and nominally religious people of the Baltimore-Washington region to say about us, 'See how they love each other.' It can be so if we choose." The full statement and episcopal address may be found here.

In their report on the State of the Church, Bishop Schol and five church leaders shared about the strong ministry across the Baltimore-Washington Conference during 2011. Accomplishments included: more disciples made in 2011 than 2010, more churches growing than declining, increased the number of churches paying 100 percent of apportionments, more people in Sunday school, more people engaged in mission and more small groups. The bishop and the church leaders encouraged the members to reach out in creative, mission-centered ways to the non- and nominally religious. While the conference is a disciple-making leader within the denomination, there are challenges ahead, including addressing a decline in worship attendance in many churches.

"We need to lay aside the desire to hold on to the way church used to be," the bishop said. He encouraged conference and church leaders to develop new ways of starting faith communities, repurposing buildings, calling and equipping spiritual leaders and raising money.

To assist in these efforts, the conference nearly unanimously adopted a "2020 Vision" that commits to bold goals in the areas of discipleship, leadership, congregational growth and mission. Included in the vision are plans to develop funding streams that allow the conference to participate significantly in efforts to end deaths by malaria in Africa and build 500 units of supportive housing for the homeless in Baltimore and Washington. The vision also calls for a feasibility study to explore the potential success of a local church-centered capital funds campaign throughout the conference.

The vision, said Cynthia Taylor, chair of the Discipleship Council and a member of the 2020 Vision team, continues the shift in the church's conversation from membership to discipleship. "We are moving from enlisting members to discipling believers for faithful living in the world," she said.

Members also adopted a $17.1 million budget for 2013, which eliminates conference spending by more than a million dollars and lowers the benevolence factor to 17.75 percent. The reductions are intended to ensure that as much money as possible stays in local churches for mission and ministry, said Charlie Moore, the chair of the conference Council on Finance and Administration.

As part of their holy conferencing, members set aside time for worship and learning. At the end of the opening worship service, Bishop Schol invited members to come forward to the altar to pray. Many streamed forward, but during that time of music and prayer, Marge Shiflet of Providence United Methodist Church in Kemptown, stayed in her seat, stunned.

Shiflet, who was going blind in her left eye, said she felt the presence of the Holy Spirit and her vision suddenly cleared.

"I'm not this kind of person. This kind of thing doesn't happen to me," Shiflet said. "I'm going to see my doctor, but this feels like a miracle."

In addition, members heard from a series of inspiring preachers and speakers.

Bishop Gregory Palmer, of the Illinois Greater Rivers Annual (regional) Conference, spoke at the Service of Ordination, where nine elders and two deacons were ordained into full connection and 14 candidates were commissioned to serve as provisional pastors.

Bishop Palmer asked those present: "What is God's stake in your ministry?" He challenged them to nurture their gifts so that God can use them beyond their wildest imagination. At the conclusion of the service, many came forward to the altar for prayer, sensing a call to the ministry within themselves.

The Rev. Zan Holmes, who narrated the first Disciple Bible Study series, preached at the opening worship service. He invited church leaders to check their egos at the doors, so that they might not miss the blessings God has in store, and to be open to the new things God is doing in their midst.

The Rev. Clif Christopher led two plenary sessions on practical stewardship and why people give. The church, he said, too often does a poor job at helping people be generous. We need to learn how to share with people why the church is the best place to give their dollar. What a person chooses to give to the church "is a measurement of their soul," he said. It's also an indicator of a church's vitality.

The Rev. Kenda Creasy Dean, of Princeton Theological Seminary, instructed the members how to reach out to young people and emphasized the importance of hope and missional imagination. Creasy Dean challenged those present. "Let's do something radical for our faith to show kids what loving Jesus looks like," she said. "What would our congregations look like if we did that? If we participated in offering game-changing grace and telling the story of a lifetime, we might get unstuck. And what's stopping us from offering game-changing grace? Nothing."

Members also endorsed the Rev. Rodney Thomas Smothers of St. Paul-Corkran Memorial Cooperative Parish in Oxon Hill as the Baltimore-Washington Conference's episcopal candidate. Smothers will be a candidate in the election of three bishops at the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference, which meets in Charleston, W.Va., July 16-20.

In others actions, the members:

  • Worshipped to the music of the nationally celebrated Latino band Salvador, and to Crossroads, led by Jimmy Sherrod of Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church in Washington.

  • Received greetings and an invitation to be a partner in community outreach from Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

  • Affirmed the creation of a team that will study the best ways to organize and do campus ministries within the Baltimore-Washington Conference. Adopted legislation that updates and clarifies the conference's sexual misconduct policies.

  • Endorsed Extend Health, a new health care plan for retirees that will go into effect Jan. 1, 2013.

  • Updated and clarified the conference rules so that they are in line with the Discipline and current practices.

  • Recognized the contributions of 27 people who have been trained at certified lay ministers.

  • Remembered and celebrated the lives of 42 saints of the church who died last year.

  • Received words of appreciation from Gabrielle Moriah Johnson, a student at United Methodist-related Bennett College, for paying 100 percent of the Baltimore-Washington Conference's apportionment to benefit the Black College Fund.

  • Endorsed the work of ending homelessness and voted to review this work to strengthen the conference's involvement by including other homeless ministries around the conference and reviewing how conference properties are used and how this ministry will be overseen.

  • Increased equitable compensation by $764 to a minimum salary of $38,948. Also voted that equitable compensation maximum increments of $250 per year be decreased from 30 years to 15 years for those with new appointments beginning in 2013.

In reflecting on the state of the church, Bishop Schol said, "I see God doing a new thing; it is the Baltimore-Washington Conference engaged in passionate worship, connecting with the non- and nominally religious, growing through small groups, engaging in risk-taking mission and giving generously to the needs of the world. &ellipsis; Let us rise up and meet our challenges, move out in mission, capture the hearts and mind of the non-and nominally religious, and lift up the name of Jesus Christ in everything we do."

Professions of faith stand at 4,231, up 1 percent from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 65,627, down one percent. Church school attendance stands at 19,609, up 1.7 percent.

The 2011 budget for the Baltimore-Washington Conference was $17,947,896. For 2012, the budget was reduced to $17,086,722.The Baltimore-Washington Conference paid 100 percent of its General Church apportionment for the 15th year in a row.