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2015 Illinois Great Rivers Conference


The Illinois Great Rivers Conference was held June 10-13, under the theme, Healing the Circle, which included an Act of Repentance toward indigenous people.

Conference speakers the Revs. Fred Shaw and Thom White Wolf Fassett prepared lay and clergy members for the Friday service by recounting the history of relations between the white population and Native Americans through the years.

The audience sat quietly as the two speakers told stories from American history that many said they “had never heard before.”

During the Act of Repentance, three conference pastors– the Revs. Dan Lybarger, Gary Billiot and Danira Parra told of their personal experiences.

Lybarger recounted history which took place within the conference borders. Billiot shared from his own personal experience in the southeastern United States and Parra shared her story growing up as a person of both Native American and Hispanic heritage.

“It was easier to be seen as Hispanic, although I am only one-fourth Hispanic,” Parra said. “When you are Native American, it’s like you don’t exist.”

Parra noted that Illinois has the largest Native American population of any state without a reservation.

“We have had a wonderful mission partnership with a third-world country in Africa,” Parra said.

“But we have Third World countries in the United States. They are called reservations.”

She challenged the conference to adopt a reservation – “just one” – in a mission partnership. She asked the United Methodist Women to adopt “just one” mission project that could build a relationship similar to the UMW’s relations with Cunningham Home and the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House.

Pieces of burlap and a container of ashes were placed on tables and participants shared the imposition of ashes as part of the service.

An impromptu offering for Dayspring United Methodist Church in East Peoria – the state’s only Native-American United Methodist Church – collected $9,618.15, which will be used to assist the congregation in completing its building and paving its parking lot.

In addition to the impromptu offering, special offerings were received for: the Making Dreams Possible Scholarship campaign ($35,603); the Laity Session offering for the John Kofi Asmah School in Liberia ($5,609); the Ordinands’ Holy Land Pilgrimage ($5,626); and the Tom Brown Scholarship at Wiley College, one of 11 historically Black Colleges ($6,166). Also, 165 conference churches filled a trailer of 4,660 pounds of school supplies and $890 in monetary contributions for the Midwest Mission Distribution Center which will be sent as school bags to a Native American school in the Dakotas.

The conference was recognized by the General Council on Finance and Administration for its payment of 100 percent of general church apportionments for the 12th consecutive year and for $6.8 million in disaster relief by the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

Legislatively, the conference approved a proposal to close three of the conference’s five camps due to declining attendance over the past 10 years. Discussion was passionate and spirited as four counter-proposals were also debated. In the end, the conference session voted 492-292 to adopt the proposal of the Commission on Camping and Retreat Ministries and urged the Commission to grant a non-profit group, Jensen Camp Foundation, the right of first refusal on the sale of Jensen Woods Camp in Timewell, Illinois. The other two camps closing will be Living Springs Camp in Lewistown and Epworth Camp in Louisville, Illinois.

Delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conference were elected during the respective clergy and laity sessions.

Clergy elected to General Conference are (in order of election): the Rev. Sylvester Weatherall, Spoon River district superintendent; the Rev. Andy Adams, Quest United Methodist Church, Champaign; the Rev. Sara Isbell, Chatham United Methodist Church; the Rev. Robert Phillips, Peoria First United Methodist Church, and Rev. Chris Ritter, Geneseo First United Methodist Church.

Laity elected to General Conference are (in order of election): Rhonda Whitaker, Neoga Grace United Methodist Church, Neoga; Bunny Wolfe, conference coordinator of Missions and Outreach; Bobby Davis, Maryville St. Luke United Methodist Church, Maryville; Kimberly Woods, Braceville United Methodist Church, Braceville; and Steve Schonert, Olney First United Methodist Church.

Joining the General Conference delegation to form the conference jurisdictional delegation are:

Clergy: the Rev. Randall Robinson, Danville St. James United Methodist Church; The Rev. Roger Ross, Springfield First United Methodist Church; the Rev. Janice Griffith, executive assistant to the bishop; the Rev. Rose Booker-Jones, Iroquois River district superintendent and the Rev. Beth Fender, conference coordinator of  Discipleship and New Streams.

Laity: Larry Weber, Fairview Heights Christ United Methodist Church; Marian McCray, Granite City Namoki United Methodist Church; Anish Hermon, Bloomington Quest United Methodist Church; Fred Iutzi, Carthage First United Methodist Church; and Carol Sims, administrative assistant to Preachers’ Aid Society and Benefit Fund.

Alternates are the Rev. J. Keith Zimmerman, retired; Nicole Cox, associate pastor, Springfield First United Methodist Church; the Rev. Dennis Price, Troy United Methodist Church; Melissa Calvillo, Carthage First United Methodist Church; Carolyn Yockey, Normal First United Methodist Church; and J. LaVon Wilson, Springfield Grace United Methodist Church.

Total 2014 membership is 129,587, down 2,338 from 2013. Average worship attendance for 2014 is 59,200, down 1,669. Professions of faith for 2014 is 1,915, down from 2,202 in 2013.

Giving to missions for 2014 was $1,119,528, compared to $1,472,900 in 2013.

Bishop Jonathan Keaton ordained nine elders in full connection and three deacons in full connection. He commission nine provisional elders and one provisional deacon. Two pastors had their orders recognized and became provisional elders and one was elected to associate membership.  A total of 25 pastors, representing 584 years of service, retired.

—Paul Black, director of Communication Ministries for the Illinois Great River Conference.