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2016 Arkansas Annual Conference

Name of conference: Arkansas Annual Conference

Location of conference gathering: Bank of the Ozarks Arena, Hot Springs, Arkansas

Dates of conference gathering: June 19-22, 2016

Officiating bishop: Bishop Gary Mueller

Guest speakers: The Revs. Jan Davis, Samuel Yun and Emanuel Cleaver III

Memorable points or quotes by speakers:

“We need to go to the feet of Jesus, and ask Jesus to wake us up. We cannot wake ourselves…. We need Jesus Christ to wake us. And you know, anything you want to revive, any revival starts at the feet of Jesus. Anything you want to revive starts with prayer.” (The Rev. Jan Davis, incoming senior pastor of Central United Methodist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas, during opening worship)

“Spiritual revival is not a moment; it’s a movement…. Spiritual revival is not another damn conference program. Amen? It’s a gift of grace — there is so much I could say at this point, but I’m only gonna say one thing: Yay, God!” (Bishop Gary Mueller, in his episcopal address)

“A hunch,” he said, “became a home for this group of motley individuals who are now leaders in the church. God did it not through research, not through this very firm dogma, but with this hunch that seemed to be resonating with people.” (The Rev. Samuel Yun, speaking on how Embrace Church in Los Altos, California, came to exist)

“Ministry together is always better than ministry alone…. In the Cal-Pac Annual Conference, we no longer talk so much about clergy and laity. We speak of the Body in one breath, in one word. We call that ‘claity,’” (The Rev. Samuel Yun)

“When the Lord calls your name, it will give you new life!” he said. “When the Lord calls your name, it will give you new purpose! When the Lord calls your name, it transforms you!” (The Rev. Emanuel Cleaver III, during closing worship)

Main actions enacted by the conference:

Business sessions will be conducted differently when the Annual Conference next reconvenes. The annual conference approved changes to both session rules and standing rules. Under the new session rules, discussion of petitions and resolutions will be streamlined. The rules will still allow for debate, but will eliminate amendments and substitutions.

“Our goal is not that one side wins,” said conference secretary the Rev. Aubrietta Jones. “Our goal is that God wins in our hearts and minds and souls.”

Robert’s Rules of Order will still be used in a more limited role when not in conflict with the session rules or the Book of Discipline.

The Rev. Mackey Yokem presented changes to the standing rules, which simplify that document. Among the changes: a two-thirds rather than three-quarters majority will be required to change or suspend the standing rules, and a 60 percent vote will now be required to change Conference structure.

Members also approved a proposal from the Episcopacy Committee and Trustees to sell the episcopal residence. Money from the sale will be invested with the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas so that it is available if needed for another residence. Interest from that investment will go toward a housing allowance for the bishop.

The Pension and Health Benefits committee report included a vote that the money remaining in the former conference insurance account (from the conference health insurance plan, which was discontinued at the end of 2015) will be used to fund existing pension liability, and to guard against future liability. The Council on Finance and Administration report included explanations of changes in the budget resulting from the new methods of apportionment, approved last year under the name Arkansas Tithe Initiative.

Resolutions adopted by the conference (use back of sheet if more space needed):

Two resolutions came before the Annual Conference for discussion and vote.

The first, a resolution to “Encourage the Formation of Accountable Discipleship Groups in the Local Church,” passed overwhelmingly, with no speeches against it.

A second resolution, written in support of the Council of Bishops’ proposal approved by General Conference regarding on human sexuality and titled “A Resolution to Support the Council of Bishops’ Proposal, A Way Forward,” prompted more discussion, including time spent in small groups at the direction of the bishop. Speeches against this resolution dealt less with the proposal approved by General Conference and more with the composition of the resolution itself, including that it called for haste when the Holy Spirit cannot be rushed, and that the language used may promote disunity. It failed on a written ballot by a vote of 310 to 356.

What did your annual conference do to reinforce the Four Areas of Focus, and what commitments has the conference made for the coming year:

In keeping with the denominational focus on ministry with the poor, the Arkansas Conference voted to extend its three-year childhood hunger initiative for an additional three years. Called “200,000 Reasons” because approximately 200,000 children in Arkansas go to bed hungry each night, the effort includes not just food pantries, but also educational programs such as Cooking Matters classes in partnership with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance and the No Kid Hungry campaign, and advocacy work to provide a public witness to the problem of childhood hunger.

The Rev. J.J. Whitney, who leads the 200,000 Reasons initiative, reported that 34 percent of Arkansas Conference congregations have participated in some way, but the goal remains 100 percent. She highlighted the upcoming Paysinger Hunger Summit, set for Sept 10 in Little Rock.

“Church, we’re just getting started,” she said, adding that with creativity, resources and the Holy Spirit, “we could be the reason that 200,000 kids don’t go hungry in Arkansas.”

Number of people ordained, commissioned or received into associate membership, and average age: 11 people ordained (nine as elders, one as a deacon, one welcomed as an elder by recognition of orders), with an average age of 42; 14 people commissioned (12 as provisional elders, two as provisional deacons), with an average age of 38.5. One ordinand made history: The Rev. Naomi Punamchong Rogers became the first Korean-American female ordained in the history of Methodism in Arkansas; she was born the same year as the church approved full clergy rights for women.

Number of people retired: 26 retirees with a combined total of 599 years of service

Membership stands at 131,477 at the close of 2015, down less than 1 percent from the previous year.

Worship attendance stands at 48,646, down 3 percent.

Church school attendance stands at 19,910, down 4 percent.

Churches reported 1,867 professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2015, down 8 percent from 2014.

Adults and young adults in small groups for 2015 numbered 30,791, down 3 percent from 2014.

Churches reported worshippers engaged in mission for 2015 at 26,911, down 4 percent from 2014.

More coverage of the Arkansas Annual Conference session is here.

Source: Amy Forbus, editor of the Arkansas United Methodist.