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2017 Louisiana Annual Conference

 

“AC2017: Bold Imagination” was held June 7-10, with more than 1,000 United Methodists from throughout Louisiana gathered in the Gold Dome at Centenary College in Shreveport.

This year’s conference inspired Louisianians to “Be Bold!,” like Joshua as he entered the promised land (Numbers 13:20, NRSV). Participants were invited to trust in the Holy Imagination of God—and that same holy imagination, which is found within ourselves, and in our congregations. Members were called to live at the intersections of Blessing, Hope, Friendship, Forgiveness, Imagination, and Improvisation throughout our time together, equipping us each to be inventors and innovators in Jesus’ name.

The time of holy conferencing included worship, singing, prayer, learning, conversation, celebration and praise to God.

During her episcopal address delivered the morning of June 8 during the communion service held in the Gold Dome, Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey reflected on a tumultuous 2016, which saw police shootings and one of the largest natural disasters to ever hit the state.

Reflecting on the theme of Bold Imagination, Harvey said, “Any one of those things could have undone our work and us. Any one of those things could have distracted us, drawn us inward. But we have persevered. Our world is in chaos, but I remind you that it was out of the chaos that God created the heavens and the earth—and God said it was good! I have no doubt that God is still speaking, still creating, still re-creating, and still calling it good! We may have a bold imagination, but none of us can outdo God’s imagination! 

“I want us to continue to boldly imagine what God may be trying to break in and do in our lives, and in the lives of the people around us, and the mission field where we serve. How might we be transformed when we risk, when we are bold, when we imagine, dream, innovate?” added Harvey.

During the address, Harvey lifted up videos of three of this year's Wesley Award winners. The awards spotlight ministries from around our state that embodied a bold imagination of ministry this past year. The three featured churches are First United Methodist Church in Denham Springs, Brushwood United Methodist Church in Dubberly, and University United Methodist Church in Lake Charles. 

The keynote speaker for “AC2017: Bold Imagination,” the Rev. Greg Jones, spoke at both the clergy and lay sessions. He also presented during plenary sessions.

Jones, an ordained elder in the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, is currently serving as executive vice president and provost at Baylor University, and previously provided strategic vision for leadership education at Duke Divinity School, where he served as the school's 11th dean. Jones has published “Christian Social Innovation,” which served, in part, as a resource for Jones’ presentations.  He spoke at the clergy session, as well as the laity session, and during a larger teaching moment before the entire delegation.

The World Café on June 8 featured themes center on the teachings by Jones, helping all participants to stretch and learn to be bold in ministry.

The offering for both the morning of June 8 and the evening of June 9 was dedicated to Disaster Response to continue conference assistance to those affected by the numerous storms in our own State of Louisiana. Throughout the conference, video stories of individuals receiving assistance and hope following the storms were shared.

A highlight from annual conference 2017 was the announcement that the Louisiana Conference has fulfilled its $1 million pledge to Africa University. The announcement made during AC2017 came the same year that marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of Africa University.  

"I am delighted to complete the commitment begun so many years ago," said Bishop Harvey. "I am reminded of my first trip to the continent, which included a visit to Africa University. It was a transforming experience for me as it opened my eyes to the global nature of The United Methodist Church.”

The million dollar pledge was made just prior to the landfall of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and in the midst of a constrained budget. The Rev. Van Stinson, assistant to the bishop and director of Clergy Excellence, explained from the podium of the Gold Dome, "This was a pledge made and a promise kept. In 2014, thanks to the faithfulness of United Methodists throughout Louisiana, the conference began making annual payments of $200,000, with a goal of fulfilling the pledge in 2018," he said.

"Other disasters have come, and other challenges have presented themselves. Budget concerns always seemed to be the loud, though silent, voice in every meeting, at every table, impacting every decision. Fear, anxiety, and uncertainty could have certainly had the final say." 

However, at their spring meeting, the Conference Council on Finance and Administration took a bold step in adopting a proposed budget that included fulfilling the $1 million pledge to Africa University, one year ahead of schedule to coincide with Africa University's 25th anniversary. A pledge made, a promise kept. 

During the Celebration of Ministry (ordination service) held the evening of June 10 at First United Methodist Church in Shreveport, Harvey preached on the theme, “God’s Got This!,” based on Numbers 13:1-2, 17-20a and Ephesians 3:20-21, the Scripture basis for Annual Conference 2017.

“Friends, we too in our lives of faith, in our lives as a community of faith, in our life as the church, need to remember what our center is, what gives us our bearings, what is at our core,” Harvey said. “We need to know what our North Star is. Are we bold enough to say that our North Star is the mission? Can we imagine leading a church by maintaining a constant gaze toward the mission?”

Two people (Rachel McConnell-Switzer and AnnaKate Rawles) were ordained and received into full connection with the conference during the Celebration of Ministry (ordination service). In addition, Linda Jane Watts was ordained deacon and received into full connection membership with the conference. Seven were commissioned as provisional elders and seventeen persons were recognized as new local pastors.

Throughout Annual Conference, the 2017 clergy retirees of the Louisiana Conference were spotlighted through video messages played during the event. The Rev. Callie Winn, retiring pastor of Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church in New Orleans, delivered the sermon for the Celebration of Life (formerly the memorial service.)

The average age of the ordination class is 41 — the youngest is 28 and the oldest is 67. The average age of the commissioning class is 34, with the youngest being 25 and the oldest 59.

Current membership stands at 118,259, down from 118,194 last year.

Current worship attendance is 37,621, down from 39,124 last year.

Current church school attendance is 13,707, down from 14,290, last year.

Pictures of  “AC2017: Bold Imagination” can be found on the Conference Facebook page.

—Todd Rossnagel, director of Communication Strategies, Louisiana Conference