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2013 West Michigan Annual Conference

May 29-June 1, Grand Rapids, Mich.

The West Michigan Annual Conference met at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., from May 29 to June 1. The focus - "Disciples Made in Michigan: Inspire"-was tangible in the very air that was breathed by all present. The modeling of servant leadership by Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey, a recurring theme of cooperation between the state's two annual conferences, and legislative action one clergy member called "changing the wind," all contributed to an overall sense of rekindled hope.

Legislative actions

  • Bishop Kiesey was empowered to name an Area Task Force to raise at least $1.5 million for Imagine No Malaria. Bishop Deb celebrated the action as a person who has overcome another disease - polio - once thought to be unbeatable.

  • Conference trustees were empowered to move forward with an investment in a new Area Ministry Center. Property is being considered that would provide double the space of the current area office, within 100 miles of 80 percent of Michigan's population.

  • A plan was adopted for the creation of a Cooperative Ministry Committee related to the Conference Leadership Team. The Rev. Laurie Haller noted, "Cooperative Ministry is the future of The United Methodist Church."

  • After disciplined, heartfelt discussion the conference approved this statement: "The West Michigan Conference encourages all congregations to welcome into their congregational community gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals and couples, welcoming them into full participation. We encourage pastors to provide pastoral care to all individuals and couples, regardless of their sexual orientation. We encourage our churches to make this openness known in as many ways as possible."In a comment on Facebook, Barry Petrucci noted: "More and more people, led by youth for whom this is largely a non-issue, are stepping out to change the wind... to shift the conversation from 'issue' to story, from 'law' to risky grace."

  • The conference affirmed support of the right and need for workers to organize and form unions; further to write legislators to repeal Michigan's Right to Work law.

  • An item asking for balanced use of inclusive language in conference worship was approved.

  • An item encouraging the Michigan legislature to declare churches as "gun-free zones" was adopted.

  • All four constitutional amendments coming from General Conference were affirmed by the West Michigan Annual Conference.

Cooperation in the air

Friday was a day to celebrate the new wave of cooperation sweeping across the Michigan Area. It began with the affirmative vote for the new Area Ministry Center.Then Benton Heisler, director of connectional ministries, shared a number of collaborative developments in the report of the director of connectional ministries. We now share an area communications team led by Mark Doyal. Sonya Luna has been named the new area director of Hispanic and Latino ministries.Benton stated this goal for 2013-2016: "Grow local congregations; increasing by 5 percent each year, the number of persons following Jesus and improving the depth of the discipleship of all persons." He reported that there are 54 congregations engaged in the Vital Church Initiative (VCI).

The theme of cooperation continued in a Cabinet Report by dean of the cabinet, Robert Hundley. He introduced Dean Jeffrey Maxwell of the Saginaw Bay District, who spoke of a renewed sense of collaboration for ministry and more cross-conference appointments for sharing of gifts.Dean Hundley then went on to "demythologize who the cabinet is," speaking of loneliness and saying that the cabinet is neither secretive nor unaccountable. He celebrated the sense of teamwork fostered by Bishop Deb and expressed appreciation for the regular meetings of the two appointive cabinets around "mutual challenges." Finally, he called the conference to a year of prayer for "spiritual awakening."

Conference welcomes Bishop Deb

Nine months after she arrived in Michigan, Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey personally embraced the conference as she presided over opening worship on Wednesday evening. Upon introduction, she was welcomed with thunderous, sustained applause.

In her message, "A Rekindled Faith," she asserted that deep change starts in each and every heart. "Change won't happen simply because we are told it must happen," she warned. "It will only happen when we are on fire with the Holy Spirit ourselves."

Those attending worship on Friday evening were moved when Bishop Deb washed the feet of those being ordained and commissioned. In her sermon, "Dangerous Waters," she blessed those taking up their duties: "Wade in with joy and awe and humility - knowing you will never be the same!"

The bishop and the district superintendents sang together on two occasions. It sends a powerful invitation to collegiality and servanthood when the appointive cabinet testifies before the conference, "We have decided to follow Jesus."

Inspired by Lovett Weems

Coming to West Michigan from Mississippi by way of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., the Rev. Lovett Weems Jr. was the keynoter for Inspiration Saturday, on June 1. He shared the "movie version" of the book that everyone had studied prior to arriving:Bearing Fruit, Ministry with Real Results.

Weems shared five principles about fruitfulness and amplified them with real-life examples from local church life.

  • Fruitfulness begins long before the harvest season: If you don't make your budget, your problem was not last Sunday's offering.

  • The desired harvest shapes everything else. The desired harvest should be your "invisible leader." Too often people keep doing things the way they've always done rather than follow the invisible leader.

  • The desired harvest shapes all planning.Typical planning is front-end loaded with activities, efforts, and hopes.Then we hope that out of the goodness of our intentions something good will happen.

  • Fruitfulness is for focus and direction, not judgment. If it's God's focus for you, help people take the next faithful step then the next. Focus creates a field of energy that leads to renewal.

  • God's fruitfulness is unpredictable.God takes this and uses it for that. Remember 1 Corinthians 1:25 '...the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.'

Weems preached at a spirited closing worship service featuring the Uprising Worship Band from Sparta United Methodist Church. Retelling the story of a lesser-known prophet, Habakkuk, Weems encouraged the conference to have an active faith. "We're writing the next chapter in the history of God's work," he said with assurance.
Measuring fruitfulness: four people were ordained elder (average age 48); one person was ordained deacon (age 55); one person was commissioned as a provisional deacon (age 56). Seventeen people retired. At the end of 2012, membership stands at 60,644 (down 1,309). Worship attendance stands at 35,069 (down 1,427 from 2011).Church school attendance stands at 9,317 (down 122).

- Reported by Kay DeMoss, West Michigan Communications Team Senior Writer