2015 Baltimore-Washington Conference
Meeting less than a mile from where the Methodist Church began in 1784, and just a few miles from where riots broke out in late April 2015, United Methodists of the Baltimore-Washington Conference started and ended their Annual Conference Session with one thought: being Christ’s presence in the city of Baltimore.
More than 1,200 clergy, laity and guests gathered at the Marriott Waterfront Hotel in Baltimore. They heard and saw riveting reports of how the church has responded following the riots that devastated the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of southwest Baltimore, and took action to approve a special offering June 7 throughout the conference to raise money for refurbishing the five churches in the neighborhood.
Conference members participated in a prayer march in Sandtown-Winchester on May 27, at the start of the session. Dozens of people, wearing bright red T-shirts that read “Putting Our Beliefs Into Action” gathered at Ames United Methodist Church and moved to what is called “ground zero” for the riots: the intersection of Pennsylvania and North avenues, where the CVS burned on national TV. There, they prayed, sang and were joined by neighborhood residents in comforting a family whose row house had caught on fire while they were there.
Bishop Marcus Matthews, presiding over his seventh conference session, started the three-day gathering by inviting members to stand and pray for the city of Baltimore in whatever way they were comfortable. Later, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake greeted the assembly, thanking United Methodists for opening their doors on the day after the unrest and for still being there in ministry and mission long after the TV cameras had left.
Conference members heard a report from the laity and clergy who serve in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, including a stirring Biblical interpretation tone poem by the Rev. Michael Parker. Parker, who lives in the neighborhood but who pastors Ames UMC in Bel Air, Maryland, was commissioned a probationary elder by Matthews on May 30. He was joined by 12 other candidates in that category, along with two who were commissioned as a deacon. Seven people were ordained elder by the bishop, one person was ordained a Deacon, and two others had their orders recognized.
Following the service of Commissioning and Ordination, Matthews led those newly commissioned and ordained, along with dozens of other clergy all dressed in white albs with flowing red stoles, and processed outside the hotel to pray for the city.
In between the Baltimore City bookends, conference members witnessed powerful worship, Bible teaching and moments where the Holy Spirit was touchable.
One such moment occurred during the Circles of Grace process, which occurred Thursday night. Conference members gathered in small groups in the hotel ballroom, sitting in circles of 10 to 12 people. There, guided by the bishop, members took time to listen to one another discuss four resolutions that had come to the conference seeking the conference’s blessing before being sent on to the 2016 General Conference.
The first petition sought to remove the sentence, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” from the Book of Discipline. The other three resolutions concerned issues between science, theology and the church.
Following the Circles of Grace, members voted on each petition. The first petition was approved by a vote of 539 yes to 234 no. That petition will now go to the 2016 General Conference noting how the Baltimore-Washington Conference voted. Only General Conference has the authority to change the Book of Discipline, and they next meet in May 2016.
The other three petitions received mixed results. A petition that sought the General Conference to re-adopt a resolution in the Book of Resolutions around “God’s Creation and the Church” was approved by BWC members, 642 to 127. Two other petitions—one opposing the teaching of creationism in public schools, and one on climate change – were defeated, 370 to 403, and 330 to 438, respectively. Those petitions may still be sent to General Conference by the author of the petitions, but they will not have the support of the BWC Session.
Another moment of holy conferencing occurred during what is, normally, contentious debate. Jen Ihlo, chair of the BWC’s Rules Committee, brought a resolution that would incorporate the Circles of Grace process into the conference rules. Currently, conference rules must be suspended to use the Circles of Grace process. Matthew Sichel, a lay member from Wesley UMC in Hampstead, moved to amend the Ihlo resolution. His amendment sought to bring a way into the Circles process whereby petitions and/or resolutions could be amended during the process. Currently, that is not possible.
After several speeches for and against the Sichel amendment (using Robert’s Rules of Order), debate was halted by Bishop Matthews for the memorial service, a so-called “order of the day.”
When the session resumed after lunch, Matthews took to the stage.
“Who knew that an order of the day would provide an opportunity for us to dare to believe,” he said. “I’m always open to God’s surprises.”
During the break, he said, he, Ihlo and Sichel had had a chance to talk. “It was a time of holy conferencing,” the bishop said. “Matt and Jen have something to share with you.”
At that, Sichel and Ihlo came to the podium. Together, they announced that they had reached an agreement whereby they would withdraw the motion and the resolution to allow a time for reflection and information gathering regarding the Circles of Grace process.
“By mid-fall,” Ihlo said, “we commit to having a working resolution on the Circles of Grace, and we’ll post that on the BWC Website. Hopefully, by Jan. 15, we will have a resolution on the Circles of Grace that embodies the spirit of the Circles process but addresses the concern about perfecting resolutions.”
“I would much rather sit down and have a conversation, get everyone’s thoughts, and reach common ground,” said Sichel from the podium. “I appreciated the chance to talk with Jen and the bishop.” Ihlo closed her remarks by noting that the process she and Sichel had participated in was a “prime example of holy conferencing.”
Conference members agreed, giving the pair a 60-second standing ovation.
At the memorial service, members celebrated the lives of bishops, clergy, clergy spouses and laity who had died in the previous conference year. Bishop L. Jonathan Holston of the South Carolina Conference preached, reminding the friends and families gathered, “Your loved ones’ lives are calling you to follow Christ. Never forget who you are and whose you are. You are children of the king.”
In other actions, conference members:
- Celebrated the ministry of Sandy Ferguson, who is retiring from Conference Staff as Director of Connectional Ministries. Ferguson has been with the BWC for 29 years.
- Honored the retirement of 16 clergy, representing more than 490 years of service.
- Paused in moments of somber reflection during an Act of Repentance Service and reconciliation between Native American people and The United Methodist Church.
- Heard two Bible studies from the Rev. Laurie Haller, co-senior pastor, with her husband, Gary, at First United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Michigan. Haller said that those who dare to believe must be water-walkers. Teaching on Matthew 14: 22-36, Haller said, “As the old saying goes, ‘If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat. How is God calling you to dare to believe?”
Elected six clergy and six laity as delegates to the 2016 General Conference:
- Clergy: the Revs. Terri Rae Chattin, pastor, Sykesville Parish; Joe Daniels, Greater Washington District superintendent, pastor, Emory Fellowship, Washington; Charlie Parker, pastor Metropolitan Memorial UMC, Washington,; Cynthia Moore-Koikoi, Baltimore Metropolitan District superintendent; JW Park, Central Maryland District superintendent; and Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, pastor, Foundry UMC.
- Laity: Delores Martin, Good Hope Union UMC, Silver Spring (Chair of the delegation); Jen Ihlo, Dumbarton UMC, Georgetown; Charles Moore, Community UMC, Crofton; Cynthia Taylor, Epworth UM Chapel, Baltimore; Tom Price, Mill Creek Parish UMC, Rockville; and Ken Ow, North Bethesda UMC.
Elected six clergy and six laity as delegates to the 2016 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference, meeting in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, July 2016 (note: those elected to General Conference automatically serve as NEJ delegates; the first two people elected to Jurisdictional Conference also serve as alternates to General Conference).
- Laity: Kelly Robier, Mill Creek Parish, Rockville (alt.); Melissa Lauber, Metropolitan Memorial UMC, Washington, D.C. (alt.); Christopher Schlieckert, Arden UMC, Martinsburg, W.Va.; Jordan Andrian, Zion UMC, Lexington Park; Sherie Koob, Middletown UMC; and Sarah Ford, Sharp Street Memorial UMC, Baltimoree.
- Clergy: the Revs. Conrad Link, Cumberland-Hagerstown District superintendent (alt.); Joan Carter-Rimbach, First UMC, Hyattsville (alt.); Edgardo Rivera, Frederick District superintendent; Evan Young, Annapolis District superintendent; Sarah Andrews Schlieckert, Arden UMC, Martinsburg, W.Va.; and Tony Love, director of Vibrant Communities, BWC.
Elected four clergy and four laity alternates to the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference.
- Laity: Mitty Quinn, Dumbarton UMC, Washington, D.C.; Richard Wilson, John Wesley UMC, Hagerstown; Christie Latona, Emory UMC, Washington, D.C.; and Matthew Sichel, Wesley UMC, Hampstead.
- Clergy: the Revs. Jason Jordan-Griffin, St. John UMC, Pumphrey; Mary Kay Totty, Dumbarton UMC, Washington, D.C.; Melissa Rudolph, North Carroll Cooperative Parish; and Marlon Tilghman, Milford Mill UMC, Randallstown.
Greeted Bishop Peggy Johnson of the Philadelphia Area and a former pastor in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. The bishop spoke at both the retired clergy gathering and the extension minister’s dinner.
Welcomed Bishop Rafael Moreno Rivas of the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico, and his assistant, Jannette Graulau, as they came to strengthen a new partnership between the two conferences.
Another honored guest at this session was Bishop Seung Chul An of the Korean Methodist Church. The BWC has a partnership with the South Conference in Korea. Young adult clergy from this area will visit Korea this summer.
Welcomed Moses Kumar, general secretary of the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration. He spoke at the Laity Session Wednesday night and thanked the BWC for its continuous 100 percent support of General Church apportionments since 1999.
Overwhelmingly approved a $17.2 million budget.
Celebrated that 82 percent of BWC congregations paid 100 percent of their apportionments in 2014.
Two special offerings were taken during the session. The first, taken during the opening worship service, resulted in $11,645.55, and will go to support rebuilding churches in Baltimore and to the Susanna Wesley House in Baltimore. The second, taken during the Ordination Service, raised $5,196.87. This money will support Africa University. Bishop Matthews is vice-chancellor of this United Methodist Pan-African university. The gifts will begin a fund that honors the bishop, as he prepares to retire August 31, 2016.
2014 membership stands at 168,412, down from 169,701 the previous year. Worship attendance is 61,713, down from 63,480 in 2013. Church school attendance is 18,301, down from 19,035 in 2013.
The 2016 Annual Conference Session will be June 1-3, at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, D.C.
— Erik Alsgaard, editor, Ministry of Communications