2017 New York Annual Conference
The 218th session of the New York Annual Conference was filled with worship, celebration and business for the clergy and laity from New York and Connecticut. Presiding over his first conference as episcopal leader of the New York Area, Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton wasted no time in the “getting down to business” at opening worship on June 7.
“We’ve got to roll up our sleeves, go to the people and share the good news,” Bickerton said, focusing in on the session theme, “Pathways & Possibilities: The Journey of Disciple Making.”
“We’ve got to take off our robes, get out of our pews, and do what Jesus said – feed my sheep.”
The conference met June 7-10 at Hofstra University.
In his episcopal address on June 8, the bishop offered a road map for navigating a path of hope in the conference by setting a communications strategy, giving priority to spiritual development, convening a strategic summit on youth and children’s ministries, further development of the Frontier Foundation, re-examining the Hispanic/Latino ministry, and re-starting the long-range planning commission.
Bickerton highlighted the many signs of vitality he’s found in New York Conference churches: an understanding of church context, being unafraid to take people deep into the heart of God, building relationships with community, a sense of mission, and the unapologetic use of evangelism to provide people an alternative that will “rock their world with the grace and love of God through Jesus Christ.”
He also stated that as the Way Forward Commission continues its work on issues of human sexuality, “we should find a way to discipline ourselves to create space for heartfelt prayer for and with one another. This is a time to care for one another and for our church, realizing that we are in a very weak and vulnerable position as a church and as people of deep conviction.”
The Rev. Gerald “Jay” Williams, pastor at Boston’s Union United Methodist Church and a former member of the New York Annual Conference, preached during memorial service and the commissioning service.
At the start of the memorial service, Williams thanked Bickerton for the opportunity to preach from the pulpit where he was ordained three years ago.
“I never imagined having this opportunity as a black, gay elder in full connection during Pride month,” Williams said. “I’m learning to appreciate the song my granny sung . . . Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.”
Williams connected the harm and pain that comes in both remembering loved ones and “dis-remembering” the past. He suggested that the church has done itself and its people much harm when it chooses to “dis-remember.” The church has a long history of injustice, slavery, segregation and heterosexism, he said.
“We’ve been on the wrong side of history before. We must remember that while God is always right, the church can be wrong,” Williams said.
In the commissioning service sermon, Williams brought another powerful message urging the newly commissioned to always remember their status as a child of God – no matter the tests and trials of life.
“A spark of divinity dwells within each of us,” he said. “We all are meant to shine. Never allow anyone or anything to dull that sparkle.”
He apologized that commissioning class was beginning their credentialed ministry in a “world like we’ve never seen” with threats of terror, alternative facts, and a fractured church.
“Many people are more concerned with whom I go to bed with at night, than about who has a bed to sleep in . . . with whom I love rather than treating everyone right,” Williams said.
As the service was ending, Bickerton called on Pastor Hector “Benny” Custodio of Immanuel-First Spanish United Methodist Church in Brooklyn, to offer his testimony. Custodio shared how he had been rescued from drug addiction and fought a wrongful conviction through the saving grace of God.
“When God begins to draw the perfect blue print, there is no escaping the call of God,” Custodio said.
During the ordination service, Bickerton’s message encouraged the gathering to open themselves up to the work of making God’s dream a reality. He lamented that many of our churches need to be “unleashed” to do ministry.
“How many of our churches have people who had a great idea for ministry and had it squashed because of committees, or financial hurdles?” he asked. “We need to free our people to reach the people of God in mighty and fresh ways.”
During the four-day gathering, the conference also:
- Heard the Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe challenge the laity to look to the United Methodist Social Principles to shape their witness and ministries.
- Celebrated 18 clergy members on their retirement after a combined total of 473 years of service.
- Remembered a total of 43 clergy persons, spouses, widows and widowers, and laypersons that had died in the past year.
- Participated in an anointing and healing service.
- Celebrated the ministries of Connecticut District Superintendent the Rev. Ken Kieffer and conference Mission Coordinator the Rev. Joseph Ewoodzie, both of who are returning to parish ministry on July 1.
- Welcomed the new superintendent for the Connecticut District, the Rev. Alpher Sylvester.
- Voted to elect a full delegation for the special General Conference in 2019, including extra reserve lay and clergy delegates.
- Voted on the five constitutional amendments. Those results will not be released by the Council of Bishops until after every conference around the world has voted.
- Approved a 2018 budget of $8,503,984, a 3 percent increase over the 2017 spending plan.
- Received offerings totaling $34,771 for the Bishop’s Partners in Mission, the Black College Fund, Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON), Anchor House and the Young Clergy Debt Assistance Program.
- Collected 5,225 health kits, 304 school kits, 10 birthing kits and 19 layette kits that were sent off to UMCOR.
In the plenary session dealing with legislative issues, the body considered just one petition; “Caring for God’s Creation through Improved Investment Policies.” The divestment request was referred for more discussion, and when it was returned to the plenary, it passed.
Legislative petitions accepted on the consent calendar included:
- Advocacy to protect all immigrants against racism and violence, to work for immigration policy reform, and encourage churches to become places of sanctuary.
- A call to “begin to heal injustices against gay clergy in the New York Annual Conference by showing remorse and acknowledging the ministries of the Revs. Paul Abels and Edward Egan.”
- Support of and solidarity with LGBTQ clergy, and a call to privilege “the justice-rooted gospel of Christ over codified discrimination . . .”
- A declaration that “our way forward” is the way of a just, inclusive, loving church that embraces the full spectrum of the children of God, including support for all LGBTQ clergy persons threatened with harm based upon the “unjust provisions of BOD,” and for Bishop Karen Oliveto.
- The number of people ordained, commissioned, or received is:
- Five received licenses as local pastors;
- Seven were commissioned as provisional elders;
- One was commissioned as a General Board of Global Ministries church and community worker;
- One was ordained as a full deacon;
- Eight were ordained as full elders;
- One was received as a member in full connection from another denomination and;
- One was recognized as an associate member.
- Membership: 98,408, down from 99,547 in 2015
- Average worship attendance: 28,295, down from 29,800 in 2015
- Church school attendance: 6,397, up from 6,347 in 2015
- Professions/reaffirmations of faith: 1,683, down from 1,925
- Adults/young adults in small groups: 23,767, up from 23,209 in 2015
- Worshippers engaged in mission: 8,652, up from 8,344 in 2015
– Submitted by Rev. Joanne S. Utley, communications coordinator