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2014 West Ohio Annual Conference

June 8-11, 2014 in Lakeside Chautauqua, Lakeside, Ohio

Attended by over 2700 clergy, laity and guests throughout the week, the 45th session of the West Ohio Annual Conference was held at beautiful Lakeside Chautauqua, a historic community founded in 1873 by a group of Methodist pastors. Last year’s annual conference began the theme “Becoming the Beloved Community: Taken, Blessed, Broken and Given.” Focusing on the second word in the series, Ohio West Area Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer reconvened the West Ohio Annual Conference session at opening worship on Monday morning with a message on blessedness. “We have gotten caught up in the commodity and materials of blessings instead of the spirituality of blessing,” Bishop Palmer spoke. We need to “chase the Blesser, not the blessing.”

Beginning with the Laity Session on Sunday evening, the Rev. Eric Law of the Kaleidoscope Institute took the conference theme further during teaching sessions for the members throughout the week in Lakeside’s Hoover Auditorium. His “Holy Currencies: Six Blessings for Sustainable Missional Ministries,” centers around six blessings, or currencies, from God that become the church’s resources for becoming both sustainable and missional.

Throughout the week, worship services were lively and varied in style beginning with Monday morning’s traditional service with communion, Tuesday’s contemporary service rocked by the Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church Worship Team, and Wednesday’s Hymn Sing and Prayer Service with the annual conference choir.

Offerings were taken to support Imagine No Malaria, which members placed in a mosquito net held by fourth grader, Gracie Douglas and Bishop Palmer. Gracie, from Leipsic United Methodist Church, raised $130 at school to purchase 13 nets and saved 13 lives. In an overwhelming response, the net was heavy with $395,429.57 in contributions from conference attendees. Other offerings during the week included 2080 pounds of potatoes and a semi-truck full of health kits to be delivered to Midwest Mission Distribution Center.

A deeply moving presentation was made by Jeff Hunsaker, executive director of the Horizon Prison Initiative, who spoke on the program that gives incarcerated men the opportunity to break from the cycle of trauma and transform their characters. Hunsaker explained that the U.S. criminal justice system is one of the world’s largest mission fields, containing 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population. Horizon’s participants accept central belief statements that encourage dignity, honor and respect, and emphasize transforming rather than transferring trauma. Its goals focus on deepening faith, living in a functioning family, contributing to the larger community, and facing the reality of what brought them to prison. From the more than 700 who have graduated through Horizon, less than 10 percent have returned to prison. Moving testimony from current and former prisoners confirmed the success of the ministry and the need for additional long term engagement from congregations.

'It does not yet appear what we shall be'

In his Episcopal Address, Bishop Palmer focused on the hope for change, community and transformation in a phrase from 1 John chapter 3, which says, “It does not yet appear what we shall be.” He began his address speaking to the accomplishments which showed the strength of West Ohio to move forward with momentum, traction and courage to follow the Lord faithfully and give exceptionally. West Ohio has reached 72 percent of its $3.5 million goal for the Imagine No Malaria initiative and paid 100 percent of its general church apportionments in 2013.

The bishop also pointed out a few of the challenges, or “learning engagements” he was blessed to experience in his new role. “We have a great deal of work to do, don’t we?” the bishop asked, referring to the number of churches who had baptized no one and had zero professions of faith in 2013. “I believe we’ve got a promising future,” he declared, “so I accept the zeroes as a fact, but I do not accept them as our future. Ours is an open-ended story.”

Bishop Palmer then challenged local churches to engage with their communities by reaching the children in the community and connecting with Freedom Schools, and becoming involved in ministry with the incarcerated through Horizon Prison Ministry. He also addressed recent concerns and fears of a schism within the denomination, inviting the conference to join him to intentionally participate in 100 or more Circles of Grace. “We already know we have things between us, but we choose to stay around the light of Christ until we discover one another, and see the face of Christ in the neighbor.”

Celebration of Life and Ministry

The Celebration of Life and Ministry began with a processional of banners representing the ministry of each of the new candidates and continued with the reading of each name from the Roll of the Victorious, commending those who passed away this year into God’s loving presence and holy peace. Conference members also recognized and honored the 39-member retiring class, which represents an extraordinary 1,058 years served in ministry. Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr., episcopal leader for the Oklahoma Annual Conference, commended those who would be entering church service to follow the example set by Jesus, remembering that “true greatness is achieved when one takes the form of the servant.” Bishop Palmer led the general examination with the historical questions of newly commissioned deacon and elder candidates and laid both hands on each, commissioning them to lead the church in service, to proclaim the Word of God, and to equip others for ministry. One person was received into associate membership, four deacons and 14 elders were commissioned and 11 elders were ordained.

Recognitions:

The members of the annual conference approved the following recommendations:

  • 2015 Conference and Districts Budgets, which will result in reduction in total apportioned Connectional Giving of $450,000 and 100 percent Connectional Giving level for all general church funds. 
  • The purchase and renovation of the Conference Center for an amount not to exceed $5 million.
  • Equitable Compensation recommended salaries for full time clergy of various statuses from full elder to licensed local pastors. 
  • The Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits range of policies with respect to health insurance for active and retired clergy, pension information and other items of interest related to clergy benefits. 
  • Recommendation asking state government to protect the rights of all Ohio citizens in the areas of employment and housing, without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. 

The 45th session ended on Wednesday with members singing "Blessed Assurance" and turning to bless one another. For a complete written daily summary of the 2014 West Ohio Annual Conference session including daily videos and photos, complete live streamed sessions, Episcopal address and session materials, please visit  2014 Annual Conference.

Statistics for the year 2013:

The year 2013 ended with 1,037 churches (down 10) serving 182,439 members (down 5,620) with worship attendance of 107,958 (down 2,113) and Sunday school attendance of 30,345 (down 885).   Stewardship increased with apportioned giving by our churches at 77% (up 2%) with a decrease by 1 percent of the number of 100 percent churches, and giving to the denomination at 100 percent (up 6 percent).

— Lisa Streight, West Ohio Conference communications