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2015 Arkansas Conference

 

The Rev. Paul Rasmussen, senior pastor of Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas, preached during Sunday night’s opening worship as well as Monday night’s service. At the Sunday night service, which carried the theme “Awake,” he encouraged those gathered to persevere in the face of research that indicates the church is dying.

“The message of God is not dying,” he said. “We can be part of it, or we can sleep through it. But we need to wake up.”

He reminded listeners that every church can do something with the gifts and resources it already has. “How do we wake up? By making the most of every opportunity.... Sometimes we like to sleep through the opportunity before us in order to dream about the one we don’t even have yet.”

Bishop Gary E. Mueller is the officiating bishop. 

Virginia Area Bishop Young Jin Cho opened the Monday morning session of with a meditation on the process and power of prayer. Cho urged the church to go beyond mere knowledge of God or strategy for ministry. Instead, he said, we need to develop a close relationship with God rooted in a dialogue of prayer. “Prayer is the major thing in our life and ministry,” he said. “Prayer should go first.” He guided the body in prayer for revival using Tongsung Kido, a Korean tradition of individuals praying aloud simultaneously around a common theme; and then in intercessory prayer with a prayer partner.

The Rev. David M. Wilson, superintendent of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, led an Act of Repentance Service Toward Indigenous People.

“The Act of Repentance is truly all about relationship—our connection together as people of God,” Wilson said. “We are called this day to remember our connectedness, to fellowship in justice and walk together in peace.”

The service brought together traditional Native American language and music alongside acts of worship in English, and included Holy Communion. The Act of Repentance was part of an ongoing process to improve relations with indigenous persons, as set forth by a resolution at the 2012 General Conference.

The Rev. Lisa Yebuah, pastor of inviting ministries at Edenton Street United Methdoist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, preached the closing worship service, focusing on the belief that an act of blessing has power beyond the moment in which it is spoken. “They’re words that can create new realities,” she said.

She ended her sermon by offering blessings for different groups of people in the room: district superintendents, pastors, pastors’ families and laity.

Resolutions adopted by the conference:

The Arkansas Conference approved sending to General Conference 2016 a petition concerning juvenile justice. The conference approved the resolution urging that federal, state and local governments adopt sentencing laws and procedures that eliminate life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders.

Other business included voting to end the Conference’s self-insured healthcare plan for clergy and conference employees, effective Dec. 31.

The action, which was proposed by the Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits, includes a recommendation that any local church/charge with full-time clergy increase the salary for each of those positions by $12,000. The net result should still be a savings to churches without a loss for the clergy, although actual premiums will vary.

Board chair the Rev. Dennis Spence said that the change makes the most sense of any option, given the shifting landscape of health insurance in the United States.

“We began [the insurance plan] because we could provide better coverage at lower cost,” he said. “Now, we can’t provide better coverage at even a reasonable cost.”

Another major vote approved a new formula for calculating apportionments. The Arkansas Tithe Initiative marks a move away from expense-based budgeting in favor of a revenue-based approach. The Conference Council on Finance and Administration studied other annual conferences and General Conference data to before making the Tithe Initiative recommendation.

Beginning in 2017, Arkansas Conference apportionments will be figured as 10 percent of a church’s adjusted gross income as reported monthly through clearly defined guidelines. According to projections set forth by the council, the new formula should result in a net decrease of nearly $800,000 in total apportionments and pension payments for 2016.

Election of delegates and alternate delegates to the 2016 General Conference and your jurisdictional or central conference gathering:

Clergy delegates to General Conference: The Revs. Mark K. Norman, Dede Roberts, Rebekah Miles, John P. Miles II. Norman is the first African-American to lead the delegation to General Conference in the history of the Arkansas Conference or its predecessor bodies.

Clergy delegates to Jurisdictional Conference: The Revs. Wes Hilliard, Brittany Richardson Watson, John Embrey, Maxine Allen

Clergy Alternates: The Revs. David Bush, Pam Estes

Laity delegates to General Conference: Karon Mann, Todd Burris, Karen Millar, Asa Whitaker. Mann is the first female elected to lead the Arkansas Conference lay delegation to General Conference since the 2003 unification of the Little Rock and North Arkansas Conferences.

Laity delegates to Jurisdictional Conference: Elizabeth Fink, Miller Wilbourn, Brian Swain, Brandon Bates

Laity Alternates: Makala Strang, Katye Dunn

Number of people ordained, commissioned or received into associate membership, and average age: 7 commissioned (33.9 average age), 9 ordained (37.1 average age); total average age of 35.7.

Current membership: 132,250 (a decrease of less than 1 percent)

Last year's membership: 132,438

Current worship attendance: 50,216 (an increase of less than 1 percent)

Last year's worship attendance: 50,169

Current church school attendance: 20,792 (a decrease of less than 1 percent)

Last year's church school attendance: 22,032

—Amy Forbus, editor, Arkansas United Methodist