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2015 Desert Southwest Conference

The 26th session of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference at the Glendale Renaissance Hotel in Glendale, Arizona, began on Thursday, June 18, with worship lead by the officiating bishop, Robert T. Hoshibata. The theme of the conference was, “Inspire.”

“I believe that God seeks to inspire us every day of our lives,” Bishop Hoshibata said. “ What matters most in this effort to inspire us is whether we are open to receiving that inspiration and if we are willing to work with it as it comes. Inspiration is not meant to just be received all the time. Inspiration is meant to be received and then given back.”

Guest speakers

During the laity session, Richard Hearne, director of development, was invited to speak about the Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso, Texas. He shared how this school, founded by United Methodist Women, is forming a bridge between two cultures, aiding thousands of students to reach their potential. Explaining that “(the Lydia Patterson Institute) is the only chance that most of these young people have to escape the oppression of poverty,” he said the Desert Southwest Conference can continue to educate and empower the next generation by partnering with the Lydia Patterson Institute through the summer internship program. Two interns were already working in the Desert Southwest Conference and three others were on their way.

Belinda Denicola, missionary for the Greater Northwest Area, shared a brief video inspiring individuals to consider volunteering at the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon.

The Rev. Gary Henderson, executive director of the new Global Health Initiative, brought greetings from United Methodist Communications and the agency’s new top executive, Dan Krause. He reported that the goal of $75 million for Imagine No Malaria is almost complete with $66 million in cash and pledges. He thanked the Desert Southwest Conference members for their generosity and presented Bishop Hoshibata with a plaque and coffee table book. Before he left the stage, Henderson and Bishop Hoshibata led the conference in the mosquito song and dance that the bishop learned as a boy at camp.

Resolutions adopted by the annual conference

All of the annual conference reports and resolutions are available for download or viewing online by starting at http://www.dscumc.org/ac or through the Conference Guidebook App, which is also accessible on that page. The following list of resolutions were passed as originally submitted.

  • 10.01 Divest from Caterpillar
  • 10.02 Screening Investments in Illegal Settlements
  • 10.03 Economic Inequality
  • 10.04 Inclusivity
  • 10.05 Native American Sunday Observance and Support
  • 10.06 Petroleum and Natural Gas Investments
  • 10.07 Resolution Endorsing Science and Evolution

Episcopal candidates

An affirmation from the annual conference that these individuals have qualities the annual conference would like to see in a bishop.

  • The Rev. Nancy Cushman
  • The Rev. Dottie Escobedo-Frank

Election of delegates and alternate delegates for 2016

General Conference:

  • Clergy delegate: The Rev. Dan Hurlbert
  • Reserve delegate: The Rev. Anthony Tang
  • Lay delegate: Jim Nibbelink
  • Reserve lay delegate: Billie Fidlin

Jurisdictional Conference:

  • Clergy delegates: The Revs. Elizabeth Rambikur, Sharon Ragland and Javier Olivares
  • Clergy alternate delegates: The Revs. Nancy Cushman, Candace Lansberry
  • Lay delegates: Marjie Hrabe, Diana Marie Volere, Paul Gomez
  • Lay alternate delegates: Matthew Harris, Danielle Coyco

Ordination and commissioning

Fourteen people were commissioned or ordained. The average age of the group was 50, which is five years younger than the average reported by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership. Four of these newly commissioned or ordained persons were under 40.

  • Provisional deacons: Patricia Bowman Blackwood, and Brenda Joy Smith
  • Provisional elders: Maria Antonieta Fernandes, Courtney Mason Fischer, and Susan Hamby Holden
  • Elder full member: Rick Dean Casebolt, Jessica Lauren Goad, Meridith Marie Grandy, Sandra Lynn Johnson, Brian Tyler Wilson Kemp-Schlemmer, Frederick William Mast, Katherine Ziegler Tang, and James Jay Wallasky

Signs of Vitality

At the end of the 2015 annual conference, total church membership for 2014 was recorded at 33,629, total worship attendance at 23,508, church school attendance at 4,202, and the 2015 annual conference mission projected resulted in 26,871 cans of tuna and 24,811 pounds of beans donated to various food banks throughout the Desert Southwest Conference.

The 2014 annual conference total church membership for 2013 was recorded at 34,851, worship attendance at 23,996, church school attendance at 4,434, and the mission project of the annual conference resulted in 43,946 pairs of socks collected. Adults and young adults in small groups for 2014 decreased to 12,269 from 12,488 in 2013.

Although those numbers show a decrease from 2013 to 2014 there are other measures that show signs of vitality in the church:

  • Professions/reaffirmations of faith for 2014 increased at 1,242 vs. 1,228 for 2013.
  • Worshippers engaged in mission for 2014 were counted as 11,235, a significant increase from 8,743 in 2013.
  • Apportionment giving was recorded at a 10-year high at the end of June. Monthly reports are available for review at www.dscumc.org/apportionments.

With the demonstration and distribution of the newly designed ministry cards, the conference is bringing clarity and attention to how God is at work within the Desert Southwest Conference. Each playing card includes a statement of thanks and an example of how the generosity of the church is impacting their neighborhood and the world. The cards are a small investment that should yield a great return not only in ministry dollars, but most importantly in inspiring new connections and stronger relationships with God.

Four Areas of Focus

Reinforcing the Four Areas of Focus of Engaging in Ministry with the Poor, Improving Global Health, Developing Principled Christian Leaders, and Creating New and Renewed Congregations, the annual conference hosted “Hands on Missions day” in which conference members and the general public could engage in a variety of mission projects. Those projects were:

  1. Crews'n Healthmobile:  a 35-foot Mobile Medical Unit that brings free, comprehensive medical help directly to thousands of homeless youth living on the streets of Phoenix. This volunteer opportunity entailed putting together resources that are used to teach patients and/or items that help patients with supplies.
  2. Hats and Hands: a mission of Open Doors in Las Vegas, to knit hats, scarves, gloves and layette items. Participants went go home with their loom so they could continue to support Open Doors projects or start their own mission.
  3. Legislative Stories: Helping legislators make an impact in our government for the better of our community. When legislators are equipped with stories of the people, hearts are swayed and change can be realized. This mission opportunity was more than just learning about the current issues facing Arizona, participants learned how stories can make an impact and effect change.
  4. Habitat for Humanity Construction Build: Volunteers brought work gloves, sturdy shoes, a hat, and hearts pumped ready to make an immediate impact in the community. This project took place in the early morning hours building a home for a family in need and to the glory of God.
  5. Habitat for Humanity ReStore: The Habitat ReStore sells gently used building materials at 20 to 70 percent off retail prices, and proceeds benefit the mission of Habitat for Humanity. The volunteers that worked at this project did a tremendous job of organizing.
  6. Phoenix Tool Bank: This organization lends construction tools to charitable organizations for work projects. Volunteers helped in the warehouse. With work gloves and sturdy shoes, they left early in the morning on Saturday ready for hard work for the glory of God.
  7. Stop Human Trafficking and Streetlight Phoenix: Working against the modern-day slave trade, individuals posted resources all over town to inform victims of human-trafficking how to get help.
  8. No More Poopie Cells: Anilú is a curious and imaginative 9-year-old girl who has autism and was also diagnosed with leukemia. Imagining herself as a Super Warrior Princess battling against the “poopie cells” that invaded her body, she’s determined to make life better for herself and other kids. This project helped her goal of decorating 500 masks to put over I.V. machines to change them into “I.V. Partners” in the fight against poopie cells.

In addition to those outreach opportunities, this year's annual conference included a jam-packed ministry fair. This three-hour event was open to the public and included food, a climbing wall, bounce house, entertainment and more than 85 booths featuring various conference boards and ministries with giveaways and knowledgeable, servant-minded people that were ready to share how their board or ministry could partner with or serve the local church.

A few of the most exciting and memorable pieces of the annual conference were the many stories and opportunities for growth. Each church brought with them a large poster board depicting what they did or were planning to do with the $2,000 Ignite Grant they received at last year’s annual conference. The Rev. Mike Pearson led the annual conference in discussing new ideas for reaching new people, inspiring those that had not yet decided on a ministry for new faith with new people. The Rev. Buzz Stevens furthered that discussion by focusing on the underlying principal that Jesus implemented in his encounters with people he did not know. Buzz explained that it is possible to bond deeply with strangers without spending a large amount of time with them through a mutual truth telling time.

Shedding light on the damaging effects of conflict at the local church, a small group demonstrated how to engage in a respectful conversation so that ministry can continue to flourish. The group followed that presentation by sharing that each church would receive a copy of, “Respectful Conversations: A Pathway to Peace,” which includes a step-by-step instructional DVD, “The Facilitator’s Path,” a booklet with detailed instructions and helpful background information, and “The Participant’s Path” including an overview of the process, prep sheets, the covenant and prayers.

The Rev. David Devereaux introduced a peer-mentoring program for worship leaders, and the Revs. Candace Lansberry, Brian Kemp-Schlemmer and Mark Maddox, all trained mentors in this new program, shared a few practices to consider.

The cabinet presentation honored and celebrated the ministry of the churches that closed since the last annual conference and shared the good news of the new ministries in the Conference.

Imagine No Malaria

Rolly Loomis shared his haunting recollections about his travels in Africa and the desperate cries for help that he heard. He was conflicted because we live a life of privilege and yet he could not help these individuals as they pleaded of him. Understanding that malaria is no longer the number one cause of death among refugees, Loomis thanked God and he thanked the conference for its role in supporting this life-saving program. He continued to express that “we are all a part of something bigger than ourselves … Imagine No Malaria is a way that we will make an incredible difference in the lives of many of our sisters and brothers. God can do anything, far more than we could ever imagine.” The conference’s goal is to raise $2 million for Imagine No Malaria. The Desert Southwest Conference is just short of that goal by $150,000.

Closing

At the start of the conference, Bishop Hoshibata asked the body to breathe in with God’s spirit and breathe out with God’s love. At the close of the 2015 Desert Southwest Annual Conference on June 21, he shared, “We have three priorities through the strategic direction and these three priorities help us bring vitality into our churches. But bringing vitality back to our churches will not work unless we are dispensers of God’s spirit and love. He asked the members of the conference to ask: Is my work made more inspirational because of God’s presence in all I am doing?” Then he called everyone to go back to their congregations and say that we made a commitment to let God’s Spirit come into our lives to refresh us, renew us, so we can become agents of love and peace. Then he again asked everyone to breathe in God’s spirit and breathe out God’s love.

The clergy, laity, guests and even the hotel staff walked away inspired and ready to transform the world. While breaking down the stage and audio visual components, one hotel staffer was heard asking other hotel staff members, “Are you guys ready to become United Methodists? I am — sounds to me like they’re all just a bunch of regular people wanting to make a difference in this world.”

— Christina Dillabough, director of communications in the Desert Southwest Conference