2017 Arkansas Annual Conference
The 2017 Arkansas Annual Conference met June 18-21 at the Bank of the Ozarks Arena, Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Officiating bishop: Gary E. Mueller
Guest speakers and memorable points or quotes by speakers:
Bishop Jonathan Holston of the South Carolina Annual Conference was guest preacher for opening worship. His sermon, “What Really Matters” focused on Romans 12:9-11. He acknowledged that following God’s call is not always easy, but it is always vital.
“Do not become so heavenly-bound that you do no earthly good,” he said. “Focus on what really matters.”
Four Teaching Sessions
Kay Kotan led off the series with her presentation on faith sharing. Using the image of unpacking baggage, Kotan stressed that those wanting to share their faith with others need to be “raw and real.” She used her own life’s experiences as examples and literally unpacked a variety of bags while on stage, telling a story about the items each contained.
“As part of our discipleship journey,” Kotan said, “we are called to share God’s intersection in our life where life and baggage happens.”
Childhood hunger in Arkansas was addressed in the second plenary, led by the Rev. J. J. Whitney. Whitney gave an update on the progress of the “200,000 Reasons to Fight Childhood Hunger” initiative, stating that while the state’s numbers of food insecure children has dropped to 176,000, Arkansas was still ranked second in the United States in childhood hunger.
A panel discussion followed with members from three local churches telling their stories of transformation; not only for the community but for themselves personally as well as their congregations.
“We want to know where Jesus is; we want to live out our love and faithfulness as a follower of Jesus,” Whitney said. “We want to be swept up by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Church, out in the mission field is where we are supposed to be!”
The Rev. Kevin Watson, an ordained elder in the Oklahoma Conference, serves as an assistant professor of Wesleyan and Methodist studies at Candler School of Theology at Emory University, presented the third teaching session on Accountable Discipleship. He sees a key to revitalizing our church to be reclamation of historic small groups.
“The average Christian’s faith walk right now is like training for a marathon by subscribing to Runner’s World instead of actually running – heavy on information, low on transformation,” he said.
The fourth plenary on personal stewardship was presented by the Rev. Clif Christopher, founder of Horizons Stewardship Inc. Opening his session with the song, “Buy Me a Boat” by country music star Chris Janson, Christopher discussed that is needed to become generous churches.
“Stewardship is not about getting more money, it’s about your church finding a bigger and better God,” Clif said. “Set your expectations high and allow your church to meet it.”
The annual conference heard reports from the General Conference delegates regarding the five constitutional amendments on which the body would be voting and the votes were completed as directed by the annual conference secretary.
The body accepted a motion by the Rev. Rodney Steele to reaffirm the General Conference delegation members without change.
Resolutions adopted by the conference
Resolution on Adoption – the annual conference accepted a resolution on adoption and the need for more foster homes and increased adoption rates in Arkansas. The body agreed that every local church in the Arkansas Annual Conference be encouraged to support adoption efforts through the recruitment of potential adoptive parents and the celebration of National Adoption Awareness Month in November 2017.
Feasibility Resolution – Bill Wisener, chairman of the Council on Finance and Administration, and Reverend Tony Griffin moved that a task force be established with the express purpose of assessing the current and future facility needs of the Arkansas Conference Office. Jim Polk and Todd Burris in the Conference office will provide assistance as needed.
Number of people ordained, commissioned or received into associate membership, and average age: eight ordained as full elder, one ordained as full deacon; one provisional deacon; five provisional elders.
Number of people retired: 26 with a total of 692.5 years of service.
Membership for 2016 stands at 131,477, down (less than 1 percent) from 132,258 in 2015
Worship attendance for 2016 stands at 47,334, down (2 percent) from 48,656 in 2015
Church school attendance for 2016 stands at 20,947, up (5 percent) from 19,820 in 2015
Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2016 stands at 1,915, up (2 percent) from 1,867 in 2015
Adults and young adults in small groups for 2016 stands at 29,739 down (less than 1 percent) from 29,873 in 2015.
Worshippers engaged in mission for 2016 stands at 30,296, up (12 percent) from 26,911 in 2015.
What did your annual conference do to reinforce the Four Areas of Focus, and what commitments has the conference made for the coming year:
The conference is continuing its focus on reducing hunger and food insecurity in Arkansas through its 200,000 Reasons to Fight Childhood Hunger in Arkansas initiative. The mission of the initiative is to have 100 percent of all Arkansas UM churches involved in hunger ministries.
A new website, vitaldisciples.org, was launched which will provide resources for local churches in the areas of accountable discipleship, personal stewardship, faith sharing and 200,000 reasons.
The Center for Vitality is focusing on equipping and resourcing clergy and lay leadership and local churches.
Our conference lay leader focused her address on equipping laity and on increasing involvement in Lay Servant Ministry training.
—The Rev. Martha Taylor, Marketing and Training, Arkansas Conference.