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2013 New York Annual Conference

June 5-8, Hofstra University

If the 214th gathering of the New York Annual Conference needed a signature tune, the words to the spiritual would work: "Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down."

The theme of "Dismantling Walls: Building Up A Beloved Community" was apparent as some 1,000 clergy and laity gathered at Hofstra University Arena on June 5-8.

Walls were dismantled literally as the painted layers of a brick wall banner scrawled with the words racism, homophobia, sexism, liberal and conservative were peeled away to reveal the diversity of faces across the conference.

Walls were dismantled when confirmands served as clergy escorts during the ordination procession and were invited on stage for the laying on of hands.

Walls were dismantled when Bishop Martin D. McLee invited a first-time lay member of conference to take a seat on the dais and keep time during the business session.

Walls were dismantled in appointments as McLee and the cabinet gave more weight to a pastor's gifts and graces than seniority.

Walls were dismantled when district superintendents sat scattered across the arena floor, rather than at front row center.

Undoubtedly subtle shifts, but when taken together they represent the episcopacy of McLee, who was presiding over his first annual conference since being elected in July 2012.

In his episcopal address on Thursday, the bishop set the tone by saying that he was going to "Keep it 100." Keeping it 100 in the words of the young people, means keeping it real, McLee explained.

McLee thanked the body for their hospitality since his arrival, but urged churches to continue to expand their "worship palates" in ways that will open the door to people that do not have a background within the church.

The bishop said that the NYAC is "a gift to this denomination." The ministry that is done in places like Newtown, Conn., will capture the attention of a nation. We don't have to agree to be able to work together, McLee said. As United Methodists we have a reputation of saying no to hate, no in the face of bigotry, no in the face of violence.

McLee also noted that he has been an advocate for full inclusion of the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered community for 13 years. He acknowledged that while there are deep feelings surrounding LGBT issues, he can "only listen to what God is telling him to do."

Bishop Grant Hagiya of the Greater Northwest Area sounded a similar theme when he addressed the opening session Wednesday night. He urged the body to cherish the relationships that would be started and renewed this week because our churches are experiencing a great struggle for unity.

Hagiya admitted that he is under complaint for backing the same-sex marriage law in Washington State. He added that he is "ready to accept whatever penalties come because I must be faithful to the prophetic witness as I see it.

"Jesus Christ readily gave himself up to be healing for a broken world," he said. "None of us can deny brokenness . . . we must give personal witness to this brokenness."

Hagiya on July 11 told United Methodist News Service that the Western Jurisdiction committee assigned to the complaint has completed its work and dismissed the complaint.

In other highlights, the conference:

  • Celebrated the retirement of 29 clergy members, with a combined service record of some 680 years.

  • Remembered as the sound of a single trumpet rang out, "For All the Saints," 41 clergy, clergy spouses, widows and widowers, and children and laity who had died in the past year.

  • Studied Acts 11 and 15 at interactive morning Bible studies with Rev. Simeon Law.

  • Approved the licensing of two local pastors, commissioned two deacons and 11 elders, ordained one deacon and 11 elders, and recognized one clergyperson as a full member. The average age of the ordination class is 47 years.

  • Consecrated four three laity and one clergy as Vision Bearers to begin and nurture new congregations, while receiving news that the conference would be hiring a congregational developer to continue this important work of "welcoming new people in new places."

  • Launched with the Board of Church and Society an initiative called, "Beating Swords Into Plowshares: Engaging Diverse Communities in Public Discourse and Advocacy to Stop Gun Violence," with Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes as their speaker.

  • Held an anointing service at the close of Friday evening that filled the arena with a sense of healing, wholeness and renewal.

  • Named Beth Capen as winner of the Shirley Parris Award for exceptional volunteer service to the United Methodist connection. Capen serves as one of the NYAC's parliamentarians, and is a member of the Judicial Council.

  • Heard from special speakers at meals, including Rev. James A. Forbes, Bishop Melvin Talbert, and Rev. Stephen Gunther of Duke Divinity School.

  • Collected and shipped 4,444 health kits to UMCOR.

Legislative Sessions

All but four of the submitted petitions/reports were included in the consensus calendar, of which three were approved by the plenary. The Report of theCommittee on Cross-Racial and Cross-Cultural Appointments was referred back to the cabinet. Those approved in plenary are:

  • "Study Day to Discuss UMC Structure" was called for by the Study Committee for a More Inclusive Church to examine options the NYAC may have for structural and disciplinary changes to the UMC.

  • "Commendation of Those Who Have Taken a Stand for Justice" calls for commending those who have taken actions aligned with the NYAC and its long-standing efforts towards the inclusion of LGBT persons in the life and ministry of the church. A request for a ruling of law was made.

  • "A Single Garment of Destiny: Global Solidarity with LGBT People" calls on the NYAC to publicly condemn the spread of anti-gay hate to other countries by American Christian leaders.

In other action, the conference:

  • Affirmed the four proposed constitutional amendments from the 2012 General Conference.

  • Agreed to select clergy and lay delegates two calendar years before each General Conference, instead of one.

  • Approved the discontinuation of one church, and were informed about the merger of two other congregations.

  • Approved a 2014 apportioned budget of $8,285,082, which is a .6 percent decrease over the 2013 budget.

  • Offerings collected were: Ministerial Education Fund, $4,585; Black College Fund, $4,235; and Imagine No Malaria, $41,568.

  • Those at Hofstra and at home could follow the proceedings via live web stream, Facebook and Twitter.

The 2012 church membership in the conference was 110,229, down 1,212 from 2011; weekly church attendance was 34,512, and an increase of 118 from 2011; and church school was down by 773 to 8,521.

- Rev. Joanne S. Utley, NYAC communications coordinator