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2016 New York Conference

By Joanne Utley

The New York Annual Conference commissioned or ordained 27 individuals on June 11 at Hofstra University in what Bishop Jane Allen Middleton called an “historic ordination service.” Five others were recognized as licensed local pastors, and one was received as a full member of the conference on the final day of the 217th annual meeting from June 8-11.
    Four of the candidates seeking commissioning or ordination had come out as gay in an open letter to The United Methodist Church just days before the 2016 General Conference in May. The Revs. Elyse Ambrose and Lea Matthews were commissioned as provisional deacons, the Rev. Bruce Lamb as a provisional elder, and the Rev. Alex da Silva Souto was ordained as an elder in full connection. Kathleen Reynolds, who received a license as a local pastor, also signed the letter.
    All 33 individuals were affirmed during the clergy session on June 8, where an associate clergy member raised questions about the work of the Board of Ordained Ministry and the eligibility of four of the candidates to be ordained or commissioned. A decision on a question of law was requested from Bishop Middleton.
    Middleton responded on June 10 that it would be improper for her as bishop to make any substantive decisions of law on the questions.
    “The proceedings and procedures of the conference Board of Ordained Ministry are not subject to review by the powers and authorities granted to bishops by our church’s constitution,” she said in a statement. She added that her written response to the request for a decision of law would be issued and published on the New York Conference web site within the 30-day period allowed by the Book of Discipline.

 

Memorable points or quotes by speakers included:

Bishop Middleton in her sermon during opening worship on Wednesday afternoon:

  • “Jesus told us to go … When you hear that commandment and then nothing happens, I have to ask, ‘What part of go don’t you understand?’ “
  • “Are we willing to accept the God-blessed gifts of the LGBT community? It breaks my hearts that they have been excluded. All truly means all … we must risk stepping beyond our comfort zone.
  • “What we have to give is this: Grace for all people, God’s love knows no limit,” Middleton said.

 

The Rev. William Pfohl, chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry, preached during the Wednesday evening clergy session that affirmed 33 candidates in ministry. He elaborated on the compassion shown by the Good Samaritan.

  • “Compassion is the salt that enlightens every bite of life,“ Pfohl said. “Compassion is not something we have, but something that has us.
  • “We need laborers who feel this hurt,” who know what it means to be punched in the gut.
  • “Go out to labor. Be the laborer God called you to be,” he concluded.

 

Bishop Middleton during the service of repentance and reconciliation for the sins of the church against people of African ancestry on June 10:

  • “These chains, heavy chains have been signs of oppression, signs of the restriction of possibility and one’s humanity,” she said. “The chains are signs of limiting God-given gifts.
  • “Some of us have been part of the chaining, others have been bound by chains,” Middleton said. “These chains are reminders of how we have failed, and continue to fail, but they are also signs of hope.”

 

Bishop Minerva Carcaño, preaching in the ordination service:

  • “The UMC does go out into the world in the name of Jesus,” she said. “But today it’s not as clear as it could be … or as simple-minded as it ought to be.”
  • “It’s a major issue whether LGBTQI people should be a part of the church, but it’s not the only issue,” Carcaño said. “Some people are not all that sure that racial-ethnic people belong in the church either.”
  • “We don’t want things to change, even if that would make space for others. God forbid that someone who doesn’t look like us comes and takes our place, takes our pew, or our place at the table of the Lord.”
        She admitted that she sometimes doubts if the UMC can really go out and follow the path of Jesus to make new disciples for the transformation of the world.
        “But has faith not taught us that Jesus is God among us? We can go to the edge to doubt, but Jesus always pulls us back to the center. We can doubt ourselves but we should never doubt Jesus.
        “Let us remember the joy of our salvation . . . let us go to all who hope and hurt,” Carcaño concluded.
     

During four days, the conference:

  • Celebrated 22 clergy members on their retirement after a combined total of 584.5 years of service.
  • Remembered 34 clergy persons, spouses, and widows and widowers who died in the past year.
  • Participated in a service of repentance and reconciliation for the sins of the church against people of African ancestry and made a covenant to engage in racial healing.
  • Endorsed two candidates – the Revs. Ken Kieffer and Adrienne Brewington – for the episcopacy in the Northeastern Jurisdiction.
  • Approved a 2017 budget of $8,254,282, an increase of 1.4 percent over 2016.
  • Received offerings totaling $31,852 for Imagine No Malaria, the Black College Fund, the Bishop Middleton School in Sierra Leone, and Young Clergy Debt Assistance Program.
  • Collected 4,198 health kits that were sent off to UMCOR.

 

In the plenary session dealing with legislative issues, the body:

  • Rejected a resolution calling on the Board of Ordained Ministry to “ascertain in their interview with candidates that such candidates meet the minimum standard” of fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness as set forth by the Book of Discipline.
  • Approved the petition, “Celebrating the Journey of Equality,” which backs the March 1, 2016, statement from the Board of Ordained Ministry formally and publicly welcoming LGBTQI candidates for ministry.

Petitions accepted on the consent calendar included:

  • Three calling for criminal justice reform to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 in New York State, abolish long-term solitary confinement, and eliminate deeply rooted racial and economic injustices in sentencing.
  • A resolution that the NYAC become a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and designate $1,000 as the first investment in its work.
  • Increased individual advocacy in the NYAC on immigration reform to end the separation of families, recognize the contributions of immigrants, increase the number of Syrian refugees to the U.S., close family detention centers, and monitor state laws and policies.
  • A moratorium on the “initiation and processing of complaints and the initiation of investigations and trials based upon the sexual orientation or marital status of faithful United Methodists or involving clergy for conducting same-sex weddings.”
  • A resolution calling on the NYAC to “declare its passionate opposition to continued distinctions of church law that restrict the rights and privileges of LGBTQI people in The United Methodist Church.”
  • A petition calling on the NYAC and United Methodist Frontier Foundation to screen its investments from companies whose core business is the production of petroleum or natural gas.

 

Number of people ordained, commissioned or received:

  • 5 received licenses as local pastors,
  • 4 were commissioned as provisional deacons,
  • 9 commissioned as provisional elders,
  • 1 ordained as a full deacon,
  • 13 ordained as full elders, and
  • 1 was received as a member in full connection from another denomination

 

Statistics:

  • Membership stands at 99,027, down 4,171 from the previous year.
  • Worship attendance stands at 28,437, down 1,945 from 2014.
  • Church school attendance stands at 6,347, down 829 from 2014.
  • Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2015: 1,921, down 330 from 2014.
  • Adults and young adults in small groups for 2015: 23,209, down 2,138 from 2014.
  • Worshippers engaged in mission for 2015: 8,344, up 1,026 from 2014.