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2013 Desert Southwest Annual Conference

Glendale, Ariz.
June 27-30

The 29th session of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference gathering took place at the Glendale Renaissance Hotel and Spa in Glendale, Ariz., June 27-30 in the Media Center which was renamed by officiating Bishop Robert Hoshibata as the "Imaginarium."

Throughout the conference, Bishop Hoshibata expounded on the Annual Conference theme, "Imagine..." and said, "It is imagination that is the foundation of our work together. Without imagination we are doomed to failure. It is the first step that will get us from where we are today to where we want and need to be tomorrow. My vision is that together, we lay and clergy of The Desert Southwest Conference of The United Methodist Church will work diligently to empower leaders to create vital congregations."

He detailed the four components that he believes make up a vital congregation:

  • Knows its context. Where have you been planted for ministry? What is the situation around the church campus? What are the demographics that are changing rapidly around you?

  • Has a sense of its mission, and vision that is based on the assumption on the desire to renew itself to live into the view. A vital congregation is one that begins to set goals for the future. A willingness to take risks to achieve those goals.

  • Has a system in place for measuring its success. We want to measure how many persons have had their lives touched by people of faith who call themselves persons of Christ. How many people have gone out into the neighborhood to talk about what being a person of Christ means?

  • Has a system of accountability put into place. A vital church must periodically evaluate what it has decided to do and whether it has met those commitments. A vital church will reflect honestly about progress.

Joining the annual conference guests, delegates, and clergy were honored guest speakers and Hurricane Sandy survivors, District Superintendent, Rev. Fran Noll, Gene Chamberlin and his daughter Olivia. They shared their emotional account of what it was like in the midst of the flooding and the struggles of rebuilding.

From the Pittsburgh Episcopal area, Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, also spoke about the ministry that is going on to rebuild the Jersey shore communities. All expressed their gratitude to the Conference for the efforts taking place to rebuild the community and minister to those in distress.

Bishop Bickerton also congratulated the Desert Southwest Conference for the level of commitment demonstrated in regards to Imagine No Malaria. He shared that other conferences are learning from the work that this conference is doing and implementing some of the same ideas.

Afterwards, Bishop Bickerton, Bishop Hoshibata, and other clergy and laity were wrapped up in red crate paper and held hostage by young adult leaders in an impromptu fundraising effort for Imagine No Malaria.

The effort resulted in over $4,000 for Imagine No Malaria. After an additional pledge request and offering, over $70,000 was raised at annual conference for Imagine No Malaria.

In addition, Bishop Hoshibata gave all those present at Annual Conference water bottles labeled with the Imagine No Malaria logo and QR code for online giving and tasked them to find a stranger and give them the water bottle while sharing how the Desert Southwest Conference is participating in Imagine No Malaria. Then as a continued evangelism effort, to pray with the stranger if he/she was inclined.

Although the outside temperatures were at a scorching 115 degrees, those that were able went out to share the water bottles and returned saying how fun and different is was to do this sort of thing. Churches interested in continuing this task can download the label artwork from the conference website.

Bishop Hoshibata also handed out fun shaped sunglasses to everyone at Annual Conference as a metaphor to taking a look at our churches and ministry through the lens of a new faith community. He shared that the Conference's four strategic direction priorities will be the foundational pieces of all his decisions as bishop and he asked the conference, "Will you commit yourselves to use these four priorities to look at all you are doing and lift it up to God?"

The Rev. David Summers presented the conference with a new mission statement: As an Annual conference, our mission and vision is to empower leaders who create vital congregations.

Introducing the new statement he said, "Mission statements are not like the Ten Commandments. They are not carved in stone and from time to time they must be reworked. They are about who we are and what we do at our most basic level and we will accomplish this mission through our four priorities. Empowering, strengthening, and building leaders is our core objective. Our desire with this new statement is that we will launch conversation and action that will help this leadership in vitality to move forward."

On Saturday, Dr. Walter Brueggemann led the Day of Learning with powerful examples for using scripture as a means to discuss and approach major issues happening throughout the communities of our churches.

"We are told over and over again that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. That may sound like a huge jump and a huge risk. I ask that you trust the spirit of God within us. All of creation is equal in the sight of God. No exceptions allowed," he said.

Following Brueggemann, the Rev. Dr. Tex Sample and a panel of people from various races and backgrounds took questions from the conference, coming to the conclusion that the church should and must take an active role in politics, and be outwardly focused in their ministry.

The main action enacted by the Annual Conference was to update and change nine Annual Conference rules. The delegates were able to get acquainted with our new bishop, and learned new ways to go forth and carry on vital ministry.

Two resolutions were presented and passed by the Annual Conference.

Open bathrooms resolution is a public statement that our churches and facilities are safe places for all regardless of gender identity and that transgendered people may use the bathroom of their choosing in our churches and affiliated buildings.

Marriage equality resolution states that the Desert Southwest Conference and the churches of the conference make a public statement supporting and upholding Marriage Equality. Churches and Annual Conference will support our clergy who take a faithful stand to minister to all equally and include all in the life of the church which includes but is not limited to, conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies where it is civically legal to do so. The conference and churches will support spiritually, emotionally, and prayerfully, clergy who are brought up on charges for conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions or perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.

After the second resolution was passed (marriage equality), a ruling of law was brought before the bishop who stated that he will rule in 30 days.

All four proposed constitutional amendments from 2012 General Conference passed.

During the 2013 Annual Conference, one person was ordained as elder, one person ordained as a deacon, and three people were commissioned on the elder track. The average age was 51 years. A total of 11 people retired, nine elders and two local pastors.

Membership stands at 37,107, down 3.3 percent from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 24,885, down 0.5 percent from the previous year. Attendance in Church school stands at 5,175, down 2.7 percent from the previous year.

There were 212 clergy, 260 laity, 209 guests in attendance. Sending the 681 people forth to continue the work that began at Annual Conference, Bishop Hoshibata instructed all, "Dream about what can be. Do not mourn what used to be. There is so much more that is yet to be done. My friends, we have homework!"

- Christina Dillabough, Communications designer/editor