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2015 Northern Illinois Conference

 

With imagery of water from baptismal fonts to beautiful artwork throughout the three days, heavy downpours outside and a worship theme of “Replenish,” Bishop Sally Dyck called those gathered at the 2015 Northern Illinois Annual Conference to “restore, renew, refresh and fill up again.”

“Our spirits are in need of replenishing! Our churches are in need of replenishing!” said Bishop Dyck during her episcopal address titled, “Inner Strength for Greater Outreach.” Like a body that lacks water, she said, our conference, too, is experiencing dehydration and “requires constant replenishing of the body of Christ physically and spiritually.”

About 1,000 clergy and lay representatives attended the 176th session held June 14-16 in St. Charles, Illinois, which also continued the quadrennial theme, “Who is My Neighbor?”

“We need to attend to our inner strength and health so that we can have a greater outreach to our neighbors,” said Bishop Dyck. She outlined ways vital Christians in vital congregations make vital communities. She encouraged daily prayer, worship, small groups as well as greater outreach to children, younger, more diverse people and LGBTQ individuals and families.

“We can’t do things the way we’ve always done them and expect to be replenished,” she said and then asked, “Are you going to sources of life-giving water to replenish your own spirit? Drinking deeply of that which Christ promises to satisfy our thirsty souls?”

Imagine No Malaria

Much was celebrated, too, including reaching the goal of $1 million in pledges for Imagine No Malaria. The Rev. Gary Henderson, executive director for the Global Health Initiative at United Methodist Communications, spoke and thanked the Northern Illinois Conference for all our efforts in fighting this deadly but preventable disease.

“I’ve simply come to say ‘Thank you, Northern Illinois Conference.’ You have set a God-sized goal for Imagine No Malaria and you have responded with generosity and compassion. Because of your efforts people are living not dying. The death rate from malaria has been cut in half since we began this effort. You are the evidence that we are better together,” Henderson said.

Acts of Repentance

Wafts of smoke from burning sage reminded us of the sacredness of traditional Native American beliefs during a smudging ceremony at the opening worship service. Over the past year, the conference began its journey of Acts of Repentance with Indigenous Peoples by engaging in six listening sessions to hear and find ways to bring healing from the painful past and build relationships with our Native American neighbors. The service sought to recognize and celebrate the rich history of Native American tribes in northern Illinois.

The Rev. Carol Lakota Eastin, a district superintendent in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference and former director of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, was the guest speaker. She said there’s a line between the church and indigenous people, and we must continue to tell the story for future generations.

“This isn’t a process of reconciliation. We’re here to do something that’s a distinctive Christian act. It’s called repentance and to repent is to confess our part in the past,” she said.

Hispanic/Latino ministry celebration

The conference also celebrated Hispanic/Latino ministries within the conference. Work has already started with leaders from the National Hispanic/Latino Plan to help us grow and continue to find new ways to reach out to our neighbors. During the celebration, the bishop lifted up the new United Methodist church, La Luz De Cristo, which was chartered on Feb. 22, 2015 in Elgin.

Seventeen lay missioners were commissioned including a family of four whose children are just 11 and 15 years old.

Bishop Dyck also called on more churches to participate in Spanish as a Second Language classes to learn a few words to show hospitality to our Spanish-speaking neighbors. The curriculum, “Who is my Neighbor,” was written by three women in our conference — Joyce Carrasco, Ruth Hoffman and Ngoc-Diep Nguyen. Cokesbury recently published the curriculum.

Bible study

The Rev. James A. Forbes Jr., senior minister emeritus at The Riverside Church and president of the Healing of the Nations Foundation, led this year’s Bible study. He challenged everyone to study Matthew chapters 5-7.

As he reflected on the Rev. Martin Luther King’s speech against the Vietnam War, “A Time to Break Silence,” given at The Riverside Church, and the current racially charged events from Ferguson and across the country, he proclaimed a sense of urgency. “We are in need of another spiritual awakening,” he said. “There’s a crying of God’s children. We need a radical revolution of values.”

Forbes referenced Matthew 6:33. “You can’t understand racism/greed/violence unless you understand anxiety,” he said. “Don’t be anxious. Seek first the Kingdom of God.”

Legislation

The annual conference approved 23 petitions to send to the 2016 General Conference including; a much-debated resolution on Fossil Fuel Divestment, recommendations to change the global structure of the church by renaming General Conference to Global Connectional Conference and reorganizing jurisdictions into regions, as well as deleting language in the denomination’s Book of Discipline stating the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and restrictive language regarding marriage.

Annual conference legislation that passed included supporting an Illinois House Bill which calls on Illinois prisons and county jails to provide sufficient resources and programs for treating mentally ill and substance abusing individuals who are incarcerated. Legislation also passed to support Midwest SOARRING (Save our ancestor’s remains and resources indigenous network group) in their battle to continue to keep their headquarters in Westchester, Illinois. To learn more visit: www.midwestsoarring.org.

Legislation and petitions that were defeated included 700.04; 702.01; 900.01; 900.02 and 900.06, which covered the topics of free speech, how delegates for General and Jurisdictional conferences and bishops are selected, and a standard for communicating with non-United Methodist organizations. To find the legislative documents visit www.umcnic.org/AC2015 and click on the “Legislation” tab.

Budget

The Conference Council on Finance and Administration held off on presenting a budget at the June annual conference for further discussion on the conference’s current fiscal environment. In light of apportionment receipts dipping below $6 million in 2014 (the lowest in 15 years and lower than the recent recession year), the council worked on a reduced spending plan and requested that the bishop, program council and cabinet cut 7 percent from the budget. The council will spend time over the summer exploring whether these apportionment dollar amounts are a new reality or trend and find ways to be the best stewards of the resources we are given. A group of leaders — both lay and clergy will be invited to take part in an online questionnaire in early September 2015.

“We also know that weathering change is a bit easier when grounded in mission, vision and identity. Having a clear picture of what we value and knowing our priorities as an annual conference can help guide decision-making processes if change, especially if deep change, is required,” said the group’s president, Kristina Gaughan.

The work of this group will be summarized and shared to the entire conference during a special session on November 7 when the annual conference will discuss and vote on the 2016 budget.

Guests

Other special guests included the Right Rev. C. Christopher Epting, retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa, who participated in the service of ordination and commissioning. The Rev. Cynthia Wilson, William “Bill” Buchholtz and Michael Jacobs blessed us with their musical gifts. The Rev. Melissa Myers of Faith United Methodist Church in Genoa delivered a message of hope in times of grief during the Memorial Service and Lay Leader Arnold Rivera outlined the work by laity this past year. “When we stay connected, our churches are strengthened,” said Rivera.

The Institute for Congregational Development class of 2015 was honored for their two-year commitment to this highly energized and creative program.

Ordination

Bishop Dyck ordained six elders and two deacons. The commissioning class included one deacon and seven elders. Her sermon, “The Earlobe, Thumb and Big Toe for Ministry,” focused on Exodus 29:1-4, 19-21. “The earlobe is a symbol of hearing, but more importantly of listening. The thumb represents the ministry of work/service. The big toe reminds us to walk by faith, not by sight and humbly with your God,” she preached.

Offerings

The third annual Bishop’s Appeal raised more than $42,450 for Northern Illinois Justice for Our Neighbors and the offering during the Ordination Service towards the Ministerial Education Fund totaled $2,983.94. More than 250 churches participated in the mission bucket challenge and delivered more than 700 emergency cleanup buckets for Church World Service to help those in times of disaster.

Vital Statistics

Membership stands at 88,073, compared to 93,090 in 2013. Worship attendance is down slightly at 33,380, compared to 35,044 in 2013. Church school attendance was reported as 8,723, down from 11,674 in 2013. The number of professions of faith was 1,644, compared to 1,952 in 2013. The number of baptisms performed was 1,060, down from 1,220 the year before. The number of adults and young adults in Christian formation groups and other small group ministries was 16,319, compared to 16,837 the previous year. The total number of people engaged in missions was 16,609, up from 14,378 in 2013. The total amount given to all United Methodist and non-United Methodist benevolent causes was $3,149,239, compared to $3,668,476 the previous year. The 2016 Northern Illinois Annual Conference will be held June 5-8 back at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Illinois.

By Anne Marie Gerhardt, director of communications