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2013 Arkansas Annual Conference

Arkansas Annual Conference
June 9-12, 2013, Little Rock, Ark.

The Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock served as the site of the 11th session of the Arkansas Annual Conference, held June 9-12, 2013. It marked the first time to preside over an annual conference for Bishop Gary E. Mueller, who was elected to the episcopacy last July.

The Arkansas Conference increased its emphasis on worship and learning during the gathering, and also spent significant time focusing on the Imagine No Malaria initiative, which resulted in gifts of more than $38,000.

'3D Faith'

The conference theme, "3D Faith: Discerning, Discipling, Daring," came to the forefront in the joint episcopal-lay address, which was structured around how local churches can discern, disciple and dare in their own mission fields. Bishop Mueller and Conference Lay Leader Karon Mann decided on presenting together to emphasize the importance of partnership in ministry.

"To reach all the people we need to reach in the mission field and make disciples of Jesus Christ, we have to join together," Mueller said.

"Partnership in mission and ministry is a privilege-one that I hope you don't take for granted," said Mann, who was raised in a denomination that wouldn't permit her to lead because she is female. "We should embrace our opportunity to help shape the future of The United Methodist Church." The pair painted a picture of the next steps in the Imagine Ministry process, which was approved by the 2011 Annual Conference gathering and has continued to shape the conference's priorities for ministry.

Guest preachers included the Rev. Dr. Alyce McKenzie; the Rev. Dr. Billy Abraham; Bishop Thomas Bickerton; and the Rev. Dr. Grace Imathiu. From within Arkansas, the Rev. Phil Hathcock preached at the service memorializing deceased clergy and clergy spouses, and Bishop Mueller preached the service of ordination and commissioning.

McKenzie, in her sermon during opening worship, suggested adding "dogged determination" to the list of d's in the Annual Conference theme. John Wesley, she said, practiced dogged determination.

"What we have to do before us calls for digging deeper than human duty, and standing on a strength that is more stable than human stamina," she said. "We are called to be doggedly determined agents of a doggedly determined God, who go into situations where only the power of God can heal, only the power of God can comfort."

In addition to those invited to preach, the conference featured guest leaders of Tuesday afternoon breakout sessions: the Rev. Dr. Craig Finnestad covering small group ministry; Kay Kotan speaking on lay leadership; the Rev. David Hyatt on clergy leadership development; and a team of Arkansas-based worship planners presenting on approaches to worship design. Monday afternoon breakout sessions provided time for Conference members to discuss how well their congregations are living up to four "core measures" of ministry adopted at the 2011 Annual Conference.

Imagine No Malaria focus

Bishop Thomas Bickerton preached Monday, challenging the church in Arkansas to "lighten up, loosen up and have a little fun."

"We've got to unleash this church of ours," he said. "We've got to throw it in motion forcefully and oppose the opposition that causes us to want to hold back, because we are in a denomination, friends, that is tempted with being leashed. Too many hold back, and they're not free enough."

As the head of the Imagine No Malaria campaign, he also shared of the church's world-transforming work through the fight to end deaths from malaria, a preventable and treatable disease that currently kills one child every minute. The special offering that followed yielded $14,300 for the cause.

Imagine No Malaria fundraising was also the focus of a "Skeeter Beater" fun run and walk, and a display booth shared ideas for how local churches can join in raising funds to help save lives. The Conference had set a goal of saving 3,000 lives during the approximately 3,000 minutes Annual Conference was in session, with a target dollar amount of $30,000 based on the $10 cost of providing an insecticide-treated bed net to ward off mosquitoes that carry malaria. They exceeded that goal, raising $38,780 to save 3,878 lives-and the total will be doubled through a matching grant from the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas, resulting in 7,756 lives saved.

Other actions

The Conference on Monday honored 28 retiring clergy, representing a combined total of more than 606 years of service.

During Tuesday night worship, seven persons were ordained, all as elders; and 14 commissioned, three as provisional deacons and 11 as provisional elders. The average age of those ordained this year is 44; the average age of those commissioned is 37.6.

The Conference accomplished necessary business related to pensions and other financial matters, as well as several other actions, including:

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    1. Approving a resolution addressing gun violence, sponsored by the Arkansas chapters of Black Methodists for Church Renewal and Methodist Federation for Social Action. High school student Kyle Forehand presented the resolution, sharing the story of a schoolmate who was killed in a drive-by shooting.

    2. Approving changes to its structure and standing rules, as well as adding procedures for dealing with salary arrearage to its equitable compensation policy.

    3. Voting overwhelmingly in favor of ratifying the amendments sent by the 2012 General Conference.

    4. Voting to elect delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences at the same time as it has done in previous quadrennia. Legislation approved at the 2012 General Conference gave annual conferences the option to elect delegates either the year before or two years before General Conference. Some conferences have moved delegation elections to two years before to allow more time for preparation, but after outlining the pros and cons of each option, the Arkansas Conference delegation recommended against the change.

     

Membership stands at 134,863 for 2012, down 0.53 percent from the previous year's figure of 135,579.

Worship attendance stands at 51,986 for 2012, down 1.28 percent from the previous year, when it stood at 52,658.

Sunday school attendance stands at 22,948 for 2012, down 0.65 percent from 2011, when it stood at 23,098.

Attendance in other spiritual formation groups is on the rise, though, with an average attendance of 49,966-a 1.98 percent increase from the previous year-as is apportionment payout, which is up 1.6 percent.

By Amy Forbus, Editor, Arkansas United Methodist