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2013 Upper New York Annual Conference

May 30 to June 1, 2013, Syracuse, N.Y.

The Upper New York Annual Conference gathered for its Fourth Session from May 30 to June 1, 2013 at the OnCenter in Syracuse. The theme for this year's Session, the second in a four-session series based on the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-9), was Called to Sow: Planting God's Love in Hearts and Neighbors.

This Session was Area Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb's first in Upper New York. Bishop Webb presided over a Session for the very first time; he was consecrated on July 20, 2012.

"We find ourselves in one of the most challenging times and one of the most exciting times to be the church of Jesus Christ," Bishop Webb told members during the opening worship service at the 2013 Annual Conference. "Despite how people identify and define themselves, this is what I believe about the human condition: We are looking for significance and purpose.We desire hope and healing.We want to live lives that matter, that are abundant. "Referencing the Session theme, Bishop Webb said, "Church, we are called to sow! We are called to plant the good news of Jesus Christ in every place we find ourselves."

As has been the tradition in Upper New York, the Conference invited a bishop from another denomination to speak at Session. Bishop Gladstone B. (Skip) Adams III, leader of the Central New York Episcopal Diocese, was this year's guest bishop.

Speaking of the Episcopal and United Methodist churches, Bishop Adams said: "More unites us than divides us," and as the two denominations are "struggling with the same realities...it is best to work cooperatively rather than competitively." "The age of working in isolation if it was ever appropriate is long over," he said.

Other guests included the Rev. Grace Imathiu, senior pastor at Community UMC in Naperville, Ill., who led Bible study on two mornings. Originally from Kenya, Rev. Imathiu shared her grandmother's stories as she taught on the parable of the prodigal son, Luke 15:11-32,and Mark 10: 46-52, in which blind Bartimaeus receives his sight.

The focus of her study of the Parable of the Prodigal Son was the title, which, by putting the emphasis only on the younger son rather than entire family, does not help us understand the lesson Jesus is trying to teach, she said. And, she pointed out; Jesus did not give his story a title at all. Titles can be "harmful and dangerous when they put a good story in a cage," Rev. Imathiu said. "... Just because we have named the thing, we think we know all about it. ... Parables, like people, cannot be managed or contained by a simple label. Show me a managed parable and I will show you a dead parable."

Sandy Soroka, executive director of the Neighborhood Center in Utica, spoke to the Conference about the work of the center, which was started by the United Methodist Women more than 100 years ago.

Charles Coleman III, graduate of Dillard University and ambassador for the Black College Fund, thanked Upper New York for its support of the fund. The Black College Fund is one of three general church funds that UNY supported at 100 percent in 2012; the others were the fund for Africa University and the World Service Fund. Coleman told Upper New York members: "Your mission is true. Your open minds and open hearts have opened doors...You have sowed seed in my life and that of all the attendees of the 11 institutions, and now it's time for us to grow it."

Members completed all of the business on this year's agenda; significant actions taken include the following:

  • Members supported a 2014 Annual Conference budget of $10,343,781, which represented a decrease from the 2013 budget.

  • Members approved a recommendation to expand the Conference Leadership Team, raising the number of members from 12 to 15 by adding the Director of Communications and two District Superintendents. The other members are: Bishop, Conference Lay Leader, Director of Connectional Ministries, a representative from the Conference Commission on Religion and Race, and eight at-large members. The recommendation also called for a balance of clergy and laity.

  • Acknowledging that travel costs may be keeping people from volunteering for Conference committees and boards, members approved increasing the rate of the mileage reimbursement for volunteers; Conference volunteers traveling for Conference business will receive $0.28 per mile reimbursement rate for individuals traveling alone; $0.44 per mile for the driver when two delegates or committee members are traveling in the same vehicle; and $0.485 per mile to the driver when three or more delegates or committee members are traveling together.

  • The newly renamed Committee on Accessibility Concerns sought and received members' approval of a recommendation requiring that all District and Conference events, committee meetings, gatherings and workshops to be held in facilities that are accessible to people with disabilities, starting Jan. 1, 2014.

  • Two issues brought forth by the Social Holiness Team were approved; members agreed to ask the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits to divest Conference stock holdings from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett Packard, because of the companies' involvement in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

  • Members also approved urging Upper New York churches and members to work against the expansion of gambling in New York State beyond the existing Native American casinos; the state Legislature voted to amend the state constitution; a referendum on the issue is set to go before voters in November.

  • Members approved one resolution at this Session aimed at renewing support for a group that worked with one of the four conferences that merged to become Upper New York. R-2013.1 Conference Partnership with Schenectady Inner City Mission (SICM), asked that the Conference create a funding partnership for the work of the Schenectady Inner City Ministries. The resolution was amended to expand its scope to include "other conference, ecumenical and non-profit organizations doing ministry with the poor across the Upper New York Conference." The amended motion commits the Conference Leadership Team to spend at least $100,000 each year, beginning July 1, 2013, allocated to Ministry Oversight Teams, for ministries with the poor.

Members heard a leadership report, presented jointly by the Conference Lay Leader, the Director of Connectional Ministries and the Cabinet that celebrated the ways Upper New York is moving forward and shared future strategies that will allow the Conference to live out its vision of "living the Gospel of Jesus Christ and being God's love with our neighbors in all places."

In a report regarding the status of the campaign to support eight endowed scholarships at Africa University, members heard a recommendation to spend this next year developing a vision and strategy to re-energize this campaign and combine it with the denomination-wide "Imagine No Malaria" campaign. Africa 360 will be birthed with the formation of a task force, whose goals and recommendations will be presented to the 2014 Session of the Annual Conference.

Eligible members voted by paper ballot on the four proposed amendments to the United Methodist Constitution; the results were not announced.

The following churches were discontinued: Alma United Methodist Church, Alpine UMC, Calvary UMC in Syracuse, Cameron Mills UMC in Corning, and Onondaga Hill UMC in Syracuse.

At the Service of Ordination, Commissioning and Reception, held June 1, 2013, at the OnCenter, 19 clergy were celebrated. Four were ordained as full elders (average age of 47.5 years); 10 were commissioned as provisional elders, one as a provisional deacon (average age 43.3 years); and one, 64, was received into full membership.

There were 20 clergy in the 2013 class of retirees; one fewer than in 2012. This year's class was made up of seven women and 13 men.

- Beth DiCocco, writer/editor, Upper New York Annual Conference