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2014 Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference

 

May 29-31, 2014 in Baltimore

Beneath banners of area bridges that spelled out the word “love,” lay and clergy members of 640 churches came together for worship, learning, fellowship and holy conferencing at the 230th session of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, May 29-31 at the Marriott Waterfront Hotel in Baltimore.

Bridge to a global church

For the first time in many years, a United Methodist missionary was commissioned at the annual session. Bishop Marcus Matthews, the area’s presiding episcopal leader, commissioned Richmond Williams to serve as a missionary in Zimbabwe.

This focus on “the world as our parish” surfaced in many other parts of the conference. During worship and Bible study sessions, the choir from the United Methodist-sponsored Africa University in Zimbabwe performed. James H. Salley, the associate vice chancellor for institutional advancement for Africa University, led the Bible study on the story of the Good Samaritan. Members celebrated raising $1,960,562 in gifts and pledges for the B Baltimore-Washington Conference’s $2.1 million Imagine No Malaria initiative.

In addition, Bishop Ryang Soo Han and his wife, along with eight other pastors from the South Conference, visited as part of a cultural exchange in the Baltimore-Washington Conference’s partnership with the South Conference; and it was announced that a new conference staff position, global initiatives coordinator, was created.

Called to do a new thing

Closer to home, conference members broke new ground when they suspended the rules that called for debate and participated in “circles of grace,” using holy conferencing in small groups to explore five resolutions on human sexuality.

Bishop Matthews praised the conference members for “staying open to the Holy Spirit” as they talked, listened and prayed together in a spirit of discernment. “One of the premises of our covenant with God is that the minute we make ourselves fully available to God, God can then do some amazing and miraculous things with us,” he said.

Honoring ministry

At the conclusion of the conference, Matthews, along with Bishops Violet Fisher, Joseph H. Yeakel and Kenneth Carter laid hands on and prayed for eight elders and one deacon who were ordained as clergy members in The United Methodist Church and nine provisional elders and one provisional deacon who were commissioned.

Carter preached at the ordination service and at the Memorial Service, which honored the saints of the church who had died in the previous year.

In other observances, the ministries of 32 retirees, representing 772 years of service, were celebrated, and the new appointments of 116 pastors were noted.

Funding ministry

For the second year in a row, conference members unanimously adopted a budget with no debate or amendments. The $17.3 million budget represents a 3.1 percent increase in spending on mission and ministry.

The Rev. Ann Laprade, chair of the Council on Finance and Administration, led the conference in a celebration of paying 100 percent of general church apportionments.

Engaging in holy conferencing

During the session, 15 resolutions were considered. Those dealing with clarifying conference rules all passed, as did resolutions on the minimum wage and working toward a living wage, and studying the denomination’s policies and practices with mentally ill clergy.

Opting for additional study, members affirmed the dangers of fossil fuels but postponed a response to companies using them. A task force will be formed to explore the potential impact of divestment. A resolution on three corporations that benefit from the Israel/Palestine conflict was deferred indefinitely.

Five resolutions on human sexuality were talked about in small groups and voted on by ballot. These resolutions: ask that the Baltimore-Washington Conference be an inclusive conference, call for the church to agree to disagree on polity affecting LGBT people, encourage the banning of clergy trials for same-gender weddings, encourage removing discriminatory language from the Book of Discipline and speak out against laws discriminating against gays and lesbians in West Virginia.

During the three-day session, conference members heard from several distinguished guests including Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; the Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, top executive of the denomination’s Board of Church and Society; the Rev. Jeffrey S. Allen, of the West Virginia Council of Churches; the Rev. Albert Mosley, president of Gammon Theological Seminary; the Rev. Robert Martin, dean of Wesley Theological Seminary; Historic Black College Fund student Nicole Pleasant; and the Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, the Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Maryland.

In other actions

Members of the Baltimore-Washington Conference also:

  • Accepted an award for contributing the highest amount of funding for missionary support in the Northeastern Jurisdiction
  • Saw a dramatic presentation by students from Connexions, a performing arts school in Baltimore, one of the many schools now partnering with area United Methodist churches
  • Participated in training sessions the day before conference began on such topics as Volunteers in Mission, grant writing and stewardship

Baltimore-Washington Conference statistics

Membership stands at 170,887, down 3,169 from the previous year.
Worship attendance stands at 63,040, down 1,572.
Church school attendance stands at 19,035, down 254.
Professions of faith stand at 3,359, down 238.
Baptisms stand at 2,508, up 39.

— Submitted by Melissa Lauber, director of communications for the Baltimore-Washington Conference