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2012 West Michigan Annual Conference

West Michigan Annual Conference
June 6-9, Grand Rapids, Mich.

The 2012 West Michigan Annual Conference, hosted at Calvin College, June 6-9, took a healthy look at life and the world. During their time together, members and guests rejoiced in the present witness and future promise of the young leaders in their midst. A short legislative slate allowed time for exuberant worship and prayer-filled reflection on claiming the power and the hope resident in every disciple of Jesus Christ.

The focus on health progressed through the mind, the body and the spirit. With those lens in view, here's a daily summary:

Bishop Jonathan Keaton preached a story from 2 Kings, "a microcosm of divine health initiatives." He reminded all, especially clergy, that "Sabbath is essential for our health and wholeness." He emphasized the need to "stamp out killer diseases by stamping out killer situations." Following Communion, worship concluded with a blues rendition of The Lord's Prayer, by Blest Ellen, a former recluse who was healed and able to leave her house and live a full life when she heard a voice say, "Sing!"

The conference thanked Laurie Dahlman for her eight years as conference lay leader. In expressing appreciation, Director of Connectional Ministry Benton Heisler reminded the conference that Dahlman attended 75 to 100 meetings each of her eight years. "That's two and a half years of full-time volunteer service!" Conference lay leader for 2012-2016 is Anne Soles, from Centenary United Methodist Church in Pentwater.

Judy Coffey, chair of Conference Rules of Order, honored Ward Pierce, for his "diligence, sense of detail and keen awareness" as a parliamentarian. While looking forward to remaining active in the Conference, Ward is stepping down after nearly 40 years of service to Rules of Order.

Throughout the conference, silent witness was visible in the registration area through Carol Vander Nat, a member of Georgetown United Methodist Church representing the West Michigan Reconciling United Methodists (WMRUM). The protest was a call to radical inclusiveness and hospitality.

During Marking Sacred Time on Wednesday evening, conference members welcomed three persons to be ordained elders in full connection: the Revs. Thomas Arthur, DeAnn Dobbs, and Karen Sorden; two persons - the Revs. Kimberly DeLong and Christina Wright - to be ordained deacons in full connection; four for commissioning as provisional elders - Emily Beachy, Eric Burton-Krieger, Cori Cypret, and Erin Fitzgerald; one person, Cheryl Mulligan, for commissioning as provisional deacon. The Rev. Michael Reigler was welcomed as a new associate member. The average age is 30.

Twenty people entered into a retired relationship with the Annual Conference. Retiree, the Rev. Molly Turner, passed the mantle to the Rev. DeAnn Dobbs, with the hope that Turner's pioneering spirit will live on in the new class of ordinands.

The Rev. Stacy Minger, associate professor of preaching at Asbury Theological Seminary, "came home" to share morning devotions. She outlined how the Holy Spirit, not brain games, can heal the "wounds of the mind &ellipsis; rejection, alienation, marginalization." She left the conference with a hope-filled challenge, "May God's will be done amongst us, in us and through us as we share the mind of Christ."

After lengthy debate, the conference approved the formation of a Cooperative Ministries Task Force through a motion brought to the floor by the Administrative Boards of the Leslie and Felt Plains United Methodist churches. Debate referenced the coming "death tsunami" spoken of at the recent General Conference. Len Schoenherr, pastor of Marshall United Methodist Church, said, "We need a broader strategy for smaller churches to become more vital or to close graciously." The Rev. Don Buege, pastor of the congregations submitting the petition, said, "Now we can move beyond Band-Aid fixes."

Other legislation included taking $20,500 of 2013 fund designated for contingency in order to increase the budget of the Wesley Foundations. The Conference Council on Finance and Administration subsequently made adjustments the maintained the increase for campus ministry but also provided line items for contingency and for the new Hispanic Ministries Task Force. A motion was also passed to maintain concealed weapon free-zones in churches, regardless of state law.

Jeremy Williams, Chair of Christian Camping, noted the board is doing big-picture planning and camps are running break-even after a huge deficit created by lack of oversight. His five-point "You-Do List" for local churches included: Send kids to camp. Go to camp yourself. Organize a family camp. Elect a Camp Recruiter. Celebrate a Camp Sunday.

Benton Heisler, Chair of the Conference Leadership Team (CLT) cited four areas of focus for the months ahead: 1) The Vital Church Initiative (which involves 50 churches at present); 2) Ministry with Young Adults; 3) Camping Ministries; and 4) Communications. "We continue to do more with less," Heisler said.

Conference Youth Coordinator, Joy Mills, told the conference that, "Youth Ministry is currently on life support. Our programs lack unified vision, time and resources. We are trying to maintain the Conference Council on Youth Ministries with outdated methods and are no longer willing to maintain a status quo that is not life-giving." After the 2012 Youth Assembly in July, current CCYM programs will be suspended, "to begin again no later than the 2014 Annual Conference." She invited Conference members to participate in the discernment and rebuilding during this "fallow time."

The Rev. Laurie Haller announced that a $5,000 gift made June 7 took the Ubuntu Welcome Center to their goal of $500,000. Jim Sally, institutional advancement for Africa University, was present to invite conference members to attend the hoped-for dedication of the center during the 2013 celebration of the 20th anniversary of AU. He also announced that an individual donor has committed the funding for Phase 2 of the Ubuntu project now that West Michigan has achieved this dream.

Bishop Keaton's sermon, "Remember Me," used the story of the man "one cross away from Jesus" to honor those who had passed away since Annual Conference was last held. Tribute was paid to eight clergy, 11 clergy spouses, two children of the parsonage, and 4 laypersons. The Order of Worship for the Memorial Service may be found here.


The Rev. Bo Rin Cho, pastor of the Lansing Korean United Methodist Church, used his wife's favorite TV show as the basis of his morning devotions. "The apostle Paul declares physical training is of little profit but like trainers on 'The Biggest Loser,' we are called to be trainers in godliness," he asserted. Stressing that we too often cite leadership as the answer to all our problems, the pastor said: "The spiritual problem is not absence of leadership but the absence of the lordship of Jesus Christ."

Mission moments of the day included a presentation by the Rev. Valerie Mossman-Celestin, newly commissioned deaconess. Director of Haitian Artisans for Peace International, Mossman-Celestin shared her vision of "The Micah Way" grounded in multi-cultural relationships and the organizing of assets for sustainable change. Shannon Trilli, global health director for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, told the conference that members gave $1.1 million to The Advance in 2011 and they are second in the denomination in the percentage of churches giving to The Advance (81 percent). Benton Heisler, expressed dislike for the cheer, "We're #2!" challenged the conference to regain #1 status. Darlene Logston, a new US2 missionary, was introduced. She will serve in Tucson, Ariz., starting this fall, organizing community gardens. "This is an amazing opportunity to do what I love," she said.Darlene will be commissioned later this summer.

The Rev. Laurie Haller, chair of the West Michigan delegation to General and jurisdictional conferences, reported actions and personal reflections on the Tampa event. In the morning. "Most of all, what I learned at General Conference," she said, "is that our power is not ultimately in General Conference, jurisdictional conference, annual conference or the cabinet&ellipsis; . Our power is in you. Jesus is the hope of the world through you." Later that afternoon, Haller gave the conference an opportunity to reflect on how individuals and churches can claim that power and hope in the coming year. At the close of the sharing, Haller noted, "You are not helpless&ellipsis;We need simply to claim the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us and the world." Highlights of that spirit-filled conversation can be found in the Daily News of June 9.

Bishop Bruce Ough, Ohio West Area, preached at the Service of Commissioning and Ordination on Friday evening. His message encouraged the new church leaders to take "the rear view" toward humble service. At the close of the service, Bishop Keaton gave the traditional invitation for persons experiencing the call to ministry to come forward during the singing of, "Here I Am, Lord."John Boley, chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry, said of the 2012 class of clergy: "We are bringing in a great batch of clergy. They are young, dedicated, filled with the Holy Spirit and anxious to serve. They are already teaching us." The Order of Worship can be found here.


Final business of the Conference included voting on the 2013 Budget. The total $6,085,389 is a 2.25 percent increase over 2012. A decrease in the general church appointments, voted in Tampa, Fla., last month, kept more of the West Michigan Ministry Share dollars in the conference next year.

The Dean of the Cabinet, the Rev. Neil Davis, shared a report centered on fruitful ministry. "Net numbers tell a false story," he said, and encouraged churches to focus on profession of faith and new members. We need to "celebrate and indicate vitality to generate positive energy for the years ahead." He remarked that the economic down-turn has brought in a new era of "right-sizing" in appointment making. Many churches are moving from full-time to less-than-full-time appointments. "Clergy, I want you to know, it's a new day," he challenged. Pastor Patty Harpole and members of Life Stream UMC were introduced as signs of fruitfulness. After 10 years, Life Stream (Kalamazoo District) was chartered in December 2011.

Miracle Saturday welcomed 500 additional guests to Van Noord Arena. In the morning they enjoyed a "Red Letter Time" with the Rev. Tony Campolo, professor emeritus at Eastern University in Pennsylvania and co-founder of Red Letter Christians. "A healthy church has to be evangelistic," he said, "but we have to do more than win people to Jesus." He challenged the crowd of people, "eating more and more and becoming less and less healthy," especially when children around the world are starving. He concluded by saying, "A healthy church must be obedient to Jesus," and invited those assembled to "take the words of Jesus seriously, because John Wesley was a radical, red letter Christian."

A ministry fair and afternoon sessions carried through the Healthy Mind-Body-Spirit focus.

MIND: The Rev. Les Longden, associate professor of evangelism and discipleship at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, shared what one listener called, "a whole-body theology." With reminders about John Wesley's passion for wellness and present day clergy burnout, Longden questioned our popular United Methodist "culture of potluck." Another present in the session said, "Les helped us recapture the early church understanding that prayer is not about asking, prayer is about listening."

BODY: The Rev. Gary Henderson, executive director for Global Health Initiatives of The United Methodist Church, said his hoped for outcome of the Saturday's Slam Dunk was for "people to be bitten by the bug!" Conference gifts totaling $13,262 are evidence that the West Michigan Conference understands in Henderson's words: "This thing is beatable. It makes no sense that people are dying of malaria." Then he added, "If we can have a quick win with malaria, we can go on to attack other preventable diseases." With the help of the Wesley Foundations, enthusiastic participants used team balls from their favorite schools to score pledges for Imagine No Malaria.

SPIRIT: The Rev. Charles Boayue, pastor of Second Grace United Methodist Church in Detroit, told guests that the dry bones of Ezekiel's vision will live again when we understand that education, a stronger economy, effective clergy and strategic planning are not the answer to the unhealthiness of the church and of the world. "Wesley's burning heart did not come from Oxford but from the Holy Spirit." Encouraging the conference to stop being paranoid about the death of the church, Boayue said with assurance, "God did not build this church for humans to destroy it, no matter how hard we try! &ellipsis; The glory of God is glorious all by itself. Our obedience is our biggest asset in the spiritual realm. Everything is going to be all right."

Next year's annual conference will celebrate Disciples Made in Michigan. Congregations are invited to submit names of persons who are making a difference in their church and community through the use of their spiritual gifts. Share the names of your amazing disciples with this form.

Offerings for the week totaled $38,551: Imagine No Malaria $11,050; Youth Service Fund $8,475; Africa University $5,568; Youth to Haiti $4,621; United Methodist Community House $4,460; Ministerial Education Fund $3,264; and gifts to ordinands $1,110.

Jurisdictional conference will be held in Akron, Ohio, in July. No bishops will be elected this year but the episcopacy committee will be re-assigning bishops. Please hold Bishop Jonathan Keaton in prayer as he waits to learn of his area assignment for 2012-2016.

Main actions enacted by the conference:

  • The conference approved the formation of a Cooperative Ministries Task Force through a motion brought to the floor by the administrative boards of the Leslie and Felt Plains United Methodist churches.

  • Other legislation included taking $20,500 of 2013 fund designated for contingency in order to increase the budget of the Wesley Foundations. The Conference Council on Finance and Administration subsequently made adjustments the maintained the increase for campus ministry but also provided line items for contingency and for the new Hispanic Ministries Task Force.

  • A motion was also passed to maintain concealed weapon free-zones in churches, regardless of state law.

Membership stands at 61,979, down 935 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 36,517, down 477. Church school attendance stands at 9,443, down 649.