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2013 Detroit Annual Conference

Detroit Annual Conference
May 16-19, Adrian, Mich.

Beginning a quadrennial theme of "Disciples: Made in Michigan," the 2013 session of the Detroit Annual Conference focused on leadership as it met from May 16-19 in Adrian, Mich. For the 45th consecutive year, the conference took place on the campus of Adrian College, a United Methodist-affiliated college.

"Disciples: Made in Michigan" celebrates the unique gifts and talents in the Michigan Area and is a theme being used in partnership with the West Michigan Conference. It also emphasizes the need to focus on creating new disciples and developing vital congregations in communities.

The Rev. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., addressed the focus on leadership through his "Leading Beyond the Walls" presentation, which included three 90-minute talks on leadership, worship and preaching, and missional outreach.

During his three sessions, Hamilton gave the conference a dose of reality but also offered hope and encouragement to those gathered.

"Our best days are still ahead of us," Hamilton said in an interview with the Michigan Area Reporter after his last teaching session. "I really, truly believe it, and I'm going to keep saying it until it happens. Our theology and DNA is perfectly poised to reach the next generation."

However, "our worst decline is yet to come," he said. Over the next 10 years, Hamilton predicts, there will be a wave of deaths in our congregations simply based on the average age of a United Methodist right now. Ten years from now, he said, we will have bottomed out.

"If we have done it right, we will begin to turn it around in 10 or 11 years if we have a group of leaders ready to revitalize the church."

Bishop Deborah L. Kiesey, presiding over her first conference session since being assigned to the Michigan Area, taught on the session's theme verse from 2 Timothy 1:3-7 during the opening worship service. During her sermon, Kiesey offered hope for the present struggles while challenging the church to be the church.

The church's "job," she said, is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the whole world. Quoting from the 2012 Book of Discipline, Paragraph 130, the bishop said: "The people of God...must convince the world of the reality of the gospel or leave it unconvinced. There can be no evasion or delegation of this responsibility; the church is either faithful as a witnessing and serving community, or it loses its vitality and its impact on an unbelieving world."

"I confess," said the bishop, "that when I first read this, it haunted me. It's not up to the boards and general agencies, the bishop or the superintendents, just the clergy or just the laity; it's up to all of us to convince the world of the truth of Christ. If we don't, our faithfulness is just a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."

In worship, the Rev. Dottie Escobedo-Frank, pastor at Crossroads United Methodist Church in Phoenix, challenged the conference through a pair of sermons focused on revitalizing congregations and individuals.

Escobedo-Frank shared parts of her pastoral ministry story at CrossRoads and how she came to realize that she was trying to revitalize the church in the wrong way. She thought that if she learned the correct things, did good work and worked hard, good things would follow, she said.

But, she said, she didn't understand that death is part of life, part of our story, and that she needed to allow God to bring death in certain places so that God could then bring resurrection.

During a corporate session, the conference overwhelmingly approved a plan from the board of trustees to locate and jointly purchase property and structure for a Michigan Area Ministry Center with the West Michigan Conference. With the affirmative vote, the plan now goes before the West Michigan Conference, which will hold its annual session on May 29-June 1.

The conference collected approximately $53,000 from members in special offerings, including $33,000 to be split between the conference's covenant partnerships with the Methodist Church of Haiti and the Liberia Conference. In addition, more than $8,000 was collected for Imagine No Malaria. Over the next four years, the Detroit Conference has a goal of raising at least $500,000 for the effort, and received a report that it is already halfway towards its goal.

As part of its legislative business, the conference took the following actions:

  1. supported the current legislative efforts to reform the immigration in the United States and encouraged individuals to express their support to their U.S. senator or representative;

  2. indicated the conference believes in full equal rights for all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, the conference agreed that congregations should be made aware of and provide discussion opportunities regarding potential changes to Paragraph 161F of the 2012 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church in advance of the 2016 General Conference session;

  3. encouraged all clergy and laity of the conference to contact their U.S. senator or representative and President Obama urging passage of legislation designed to prevent gun violence as well as advocate with State of Michigan officials regarding restrictions on open or concealed carrying of handguns;

  4. urged its member congregations to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the "Great March to Freedom," which was held on June 23, 1963, in Detroit, Mich., the site of the first version of the famous "I Have a Dream" speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.;

  5. asked the clergy and laity of the conference to advocate for an independent and bipartisan commission to redraw Michigan's political boundaries to ensure free and fair elections;

  6. encouraged the clergy and laity of the conference to advocate for adequate and equitable funding for Michigan's public schools; and

  7. approved a budget of approximately $9.8 million, which includes nearly $2.4 million for pension and health benefits.

The conference also voted on the four proposed constitutional amendments passed at the 2012 General Conference session. With 599 members present at the time of voting, the vote totals were recorded as follows: Amendment 1 - 573 yes, 6 no; Amendment 2 - 582 yes, 17 no; Amendment 3 - 573 yes, 26 no; and Amendment 4 - 547 yes, 52 no.

Twenty-eight retiring clergy were honored for their ministry during the conference session. Twenty-four individuals, including 14 clergy, were honored during a time of remembrance in the conference's opening worship service.

During the Service of Commissioning and Ordination, five individuals - Richard Burstall, Leonard Clevenger, Daniel Gonder, Nancy Lynn and Douglas Ralston - were ordained as elders, while AnneLissa Gray-Lion was ordained as a deacon. In addition, Zachary Dunlap, Ronald Fike, Susanne Hierholzer and Katherine Waggoner were commissioned as provisional elders, and Susan Platt was received as an associate member. The average age of those ordained, commissioned and received into associate membership was 50.9. Bishop Kiesey preached on "Dangerous Water" during the service, reflecting on passages in Exodus 14:19-31 and Matthew 14:22-33.

The Detroit Conference membership stands at 88,749, down 502 from the previous year. Worship attendance for 2012 was an average of 41,223, down 1,187, and church school attendance stands at 10,800 per Sunday, down 663 from 2011 totals.

The 2014 session of the Detroit Annual Conference will take place on Thursday-Sunday, May 15-18, on the campus of Adrian College in Adrian, Mich. The theme of the session will be "Disciples: Made in Michigan - Gather" and the guest teacher will be the Rev. Marcia McFee, a national leader and designer of worship.

The Rev. Erik Alsgaard, editor of The Michigan Area Reporter and pastor of St. Ignace United Methodist Church, contributed to this report.