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2013 Mississippi Annual Conference

June 7-9, Jackson Mississippi

The Opening Service of Worship for the 2013 Mississippi Annual Conference was fittingly a Service of Holy Communion this year, as Bishop James E. Swanson Sr. declared this being the "best way to officially usher in the conference session." This annual conference was also Swanson's first conference as the new Episcopal leader of the Mississippi Conference of The United Methodist Church.

The communion service setup was different than previous years. Attendees sat at round tables, which offered them the opportunity to join together around the Lord's Table.

The Bishop later gave the State of the Church address as an invitation to the vision for the Mississippi Annual Conference. He began with the scriptural basis for the movement called "The POWER of We," Acts 2:41-47. He explained that the book of Acts deals with the transition from Jesus' ministry to the ministry of the church empowered by the Holy Spirit, without whom nothing can be done spiritually. He shared that he would be leading teaching sessions that would expound upon the four core values of this vision and that these teachings would be available on a free DVD that was to be used in four-to-six-week study within all local churches.

The members of the Mississippi Annual Conference began the mission of "greater things" by receiving its annual mission offering at the invitation of Bishop Swanson. This year's offering will support the following three initiatives:discipleship formation for laity, creating new places for new people, and partnering with the Eurasia area UMC to create new places for new people and in discipleship formation for laity. The Russian couple Artur and Sarah Rakhmankulova, who spoke on his planting a church in Moscow, were present and explained their work in building the Wesleyan tradition among the people of Russia. (Sarah is a Mississippi native.)

The mission offering was more than $140,186. The conference's mission auction (items donated from the districts) raised more than $7,200. This online auction was the first project sponsored by Missions Marketplace, a new initiative sponsored by the Mississippi Annual Conference to promote awareness of the various Methodist missions and ministries within Mississippi. All of the districts have outreach missions that help people in need. Many of these ministries receive little or no funding from the conference or other church agencies. Missions Marketplace allowed people to join with these outreach programs to provide needed financial support.

The proceeds of the auction will be divided evenly between the 11 districts. Each Mission Strategist (District Superintendent) has selected a beneficiary of the district's share of the proceeds.

The work of Resolutions and Petitions paused for more than 400 youth to enter the conference room "flash-mob style." The young people prayed over the delegates and thanked Bishop Swanson for his support. They recognized him as a member of CCYM and gave him a T-shirt.

The conference also celebrated the 25th anniversary of its merger of several conferences within the state to the Mississippi Conference. This included a presentation on the founding of the Mississippi Conference with the presenter being dressed in period costume as Tobias Gibson. Bishop Robert Morgan, former Episcopal leader of the Mississippi Conference during the time of the merger, spoke about the history of the Conference and the merger.

The following votes were recorded on the various Constitutional Amendments proposed by the 2012 General Conference:

Amendment I: Yes, 730; No, 15
Amendment II: Yes, 714; No, 34
Amendment III: Yes, 709; No, 35
Amendment IV: Yes, 695; No, 36

Another significant event in the history of the Mississippi United Methodist Church was acknowledged the 1963 signing of the Born of Conviction Statement. Back then, 28 Methodist ministers signed the document declaring their disapproval of discrimination. They were criticized and their lives were threatened for this and many of them left the state. In honor of their bravery, Myrlie Evers, widow of slain civil rights activist, Medgar Evers presented the group with the conference's Emma Elzy Award given to those for outstanding achievement in race relations. The Born of Conviction Statement can be viewed here.

Those who were receiving their License for Pastoral Ministry came forward for examination and blessing. The Bishop received those who would become Associate Members. He then invited those guest Bishops [Bishop Clay Lee, Bishop Robert Morgan, Bishop William McAlilly and Bishop Thomas Brown of the Fourth Episcopal District of the Christian Methodist Church] to join him for the Commissioning of Provisional Elders and Deacons. Following an examination and Prayer of Commissioning, the Bishops laid hands upon each minister praying God's Spirit empower them for their ministry.

The Bishops assembled remained for the ordination of two candidates as Deacons in The United Methodist Church and the ordination of those 17 ministers for the Order of Elder in the United Methodist Church. Bishop Swanson recognized the Rev. Glenn Seefeld, retired Elder to receive the symbol mantle of ministry. Rev. Seefeld then passed this mantle to the Rev. Sherry Judy, newly ordained Deacon in representation of the passing of the light of ministry from one generation to the next. The average age of the new class of ordinands was 44.

On the last day of annual conference Bishop Swanson and members of the Cabinet lead the Sacrament of Baptism that included the multiple modes of Holy Baptism recognized by the United Methodist Church. People were given the choice of immersion, pouring or sprinkling.

The atmosphere was lively as roughly 40 people - most of them children - made their way to the designated posts for baptism. District Superintendents were stationed throughout the congregation with bowls of water for those gathered who wished to participate in the Reaffirmation of Baptism. Each pastor with a participating member being baptized was invited to share in the service, a true celebration of God's grace and awesome expression of the POWER of We. At the end of service, Bishop Swanson told the congregation that he wanted them to take home a positive message about annual conference stating:

"Tell people you saw a new spirit. You saw people praising and magnifying God and that all is not dead, because you saw people being baptized in a pool; you saw new hope, and for as many people retiring, you saw that many people being ordained, commissioned and licensed. Let folk know that there is hope in the land not because James Swanson showed up, but because the Holy Ghost has always been here and we've come to lift up the name of Jesus."

Following this service, the Bishop adjourned the Conference Sine Die.

- This report was produced by the Mississippi Conference Communications office staff, writers of The Special Edition Circuit Rider, and the Mississippi Conference Secretary.